“Running has changed my thinking from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can and I will.’”

As far back as Rik can remember, he had always been fat. He comes from “a long line of fat people and great cooks.” While Rik counts his dad as one of his heroes, Rik also has his father’s genes. For most of his life, he watched his dad struggle with health challenges such as obesity, back trouble, a heart stent, and diabetes. One day, at age 38, weighing 275 pounds, visiting his dad in the hospital after a cardiac episode, it hit home for Rik. Looking at his dad he felt as if he was looking into his own future. Rik was already dealing with high blood pressure and cholesterol, low energy, and the start of sleep apnea. He realized he had to take action.

That’s when Rik met his personal trainer, Myra, the woman who Rik credits with saving his life. His first session was difficult; he was embarrassed that he couldn’t manage even one push-up, and he wanted to give up. But Myra was positive and encouraging, so he kept trying. Rik and Myra worked together weekly for months, and Rik found it getting easier. Each session came with new small successes, which helped build Rik’s self-esteem and confidence.

Six months in, Myra asked him to set a fitness goal. Rik surprised himself with his answer: he wanted to learn to run. Myra coached Rik on the basics of good running form, and even went with him to buy his first pair of running shoes. After about six weeks of working at it together, Rik was able to run a mile without stopping. It made him feel like he could do anything.

Encouraged, Rik quickly set a new goal: to run a 5K. He trained diligently for 3 months. On race day, he was nervous, worried that others at the race might judge him for not being a “real runner.” But he met his goal, running the whole distance without walking. Rik was hooked. He set a new running goal every three months, gradually building up to running his first marathon, 18 months later. About the marathon, Rik says, “It was the hardest thing I had ever done. And the most proud of myself I had ever been.”

Over three years, Rik’s weight dropped by 90 pounds, and his health improved dramatically. His blood pressure dropped 30 points, and his cholesterol dropped 100 points. And he bought an entirely new wardrobe; even his shoes got too big. Rik recalls, “My doctor was amazed. No more medication, no more staying home while everyone else goes out to have fun.”

Now, Rik has set two lifetime goals. He is working to run a marathon in every state. And because he received so much help and support along his journey, he feels strongly about helping others achieve success. As an RRCA-certified distance running coach, he is helping others get off the couch and change their lives, a step at a time. “The person I was before wouldn’t even recognize me now. I know I will never go back,” Rik says, “Now, it’s time to pay it forward.”