How this Air Force veteran went from 280 pounds to 195 and teaching Group X classes at 24 Hour Fitness.
My name is Angel Rodriguez. I live in Queens, New York, and am an Air Force veteran. By day, I provide IT support for a small non-profit, at night I am a no-nonsense group fitness instructor. I also run a fitness blog at nextbestday.com.
Here is my transformation story.
24Life: Tell us about your fitness journey—where does it begin?
Angel Rodriguez (AR): Where does one start to answer a question like this? Do I talk about when I first discovered weight lifting in high school after Jamal said, “Hey man, you’re kind of stocky!” Or how I trained with the Marines for a few months prior to going to basic training? Do I talk about how amazing it felt to finally attain a six-pack after ballooning up to 220 after the military?
Maybe I should tell you about how I almost reached 300 pounds, was pre-diabetic, had high blood pressure and damn near had a stroke? The story of my fitness journey is long, and has many different chapters. This latest one began two years ago, and it is still being written.
Chapter “now” begins at 38 years old, while I was unemployed, grieving the loss of my father, depressed and at a total loss as to where my life was going. I slept days, and binge-watched TV at night. While binge-watching TV, I was also binge-eating food. That’s how I reached my heaviest weight ever, 280 pounds. My health was declining, and I was on the fast track to a stroke or heart attack. Several emergency room visits confirmed that, but if you know depression, you know this didn’t faze me. I just continued to do it.
No doctor or person was going to get me to change my lifestyle. That was a given, and the world seemingly gave up on me. However, I never truly gave up on myself. Eventually, I found my way back, and that way has led me to right here, right now!
24Life: Do you remember what you said to yourself or the exact moment that you decided you needed a change?
AR: I remember quite vividly what I said to myself when I decided to change. I’m not sure it is safe for print, but there were two specific events that triggered my change of habits.
First, I caught myself looking into cosmetic surgery. This prompted me to say, “What is wrong with you, Angel? You are healthy, able-bodied, have all the time in the world and you are looking at shortcuts?”
The second and final event was becoming fatigued during intimacy. A doctor can say, “You might need an amputation,” or “You might die,” among many other things, but nothing will get you moving faster than an interference with your intimate life. The next day, I was on the elliptical machine at the gym!
24Life: Who helped you along the way?
AR: I’ve always believed that you need to be self-motivated and internally ready to survive this journey. I am still a steadfast believer in this, but I do credit my fellow gym rat, Lisa Gocool at 24 Hour Fitness Kew Gardens, with inspiring me to push past those first few months. Lisa has been consistently training for years, and knowing that she’d be on that elliptical machine right beside me, come rain or shine, provided me with much-needed inspiration!
I worked with a trainer, James Kiang at Kew Gardens. He knew me from my mixed martial arts days. He tailored our sessions to my specific needs, and that helped too. However, when I first started, Lisa was definitely the one I looked to for that extra emotional boost! She may not have known it, but she’ll know it now!
Also, my lovely wife and son, who have been there every step of the way!
24Life: What kept—and keeps—you motivated to stay the course?
AR: Little victories kept me going. I knew that I had to be in this for the long run, and mini goals kept me going. If I only looked at the end product, I’d never be able to stay motivated because at the time, that was years away. Now, it’s only months away.
I still use the same mindset. Mini goals! I’ve been good about patience most of my life, but this latest, older version of me has had to embrace it even further. At 40 years old, what used to take me two months to do at 20 now takes me two years!
24Life: Were there moments of self-doubt? What did those look like and how did you overcome those?
AR: Don’t you mean, ARE there moments of self-doubt? On a journey like this, one that take years and could last a lifetime, there will always be moments of doubt. I deal with them quite often. However, overcoming them is as simple as asking yourself, “Do you want to go back to that? What’s the alternative here?” That makes it easier for me to keep pushing on!
24Life: What surprised you the most about yourself during this journey?
AR: At one point, I must have said, “I am hopeless; I will never be able to do this.” I had no recollection of ever saying or feeling this way. A friend of mine pointed it out because she saw the drastic change in my mindset. Had she not told me this, I never would have thought of using that language to describe myself.
That really showed me how mindset and emotional state play a major role. In my blogging, I not only cover what to do, I also focus heavily on mindset. I also try and squeeze this in when I’m teaching classes. Participants need to understand how important mindset is!
24Life: What was the most challenging part of your journey and how did you overcome it?
AR: The most challenging part was getting through those first few months—understanding that this was not going to happen overnight. I used to be able to cut my carbs and drop 40 pounds in three months when I was in my 20s. At my age now, my body isn’t having that, and I had to adjust and understand that it wasn’t going to happen that way anymore.
I overcame this because there was no other way. It was simply a matter of accepting my reality, understanding that all the crying and whining in the world wasn’t going to change it, and simply getting to work!
24Life: Did you have a specific goal in mind?
AR: Knowing that the scale and weight are relative to body composition and so on, I didn’t set a concrete weight goal. I gave myself the ballpark figure of about 180 pounds (I’m currently 195 pounds, down from 280), but I just wanted to get myself healthy again. I wanted to get off the blood pressure medication.
Also, in an effort to reduce laundry, I gave myself the goal of being able to wear my tight compression shirts without a loose second layer on top of them. I want my stomach to be flat enough where I can wear those shirts and feel comfortable in my own skin. I still can’t wear them all, but I’ve been able to start with some, thereby reducing my laundry load! I’m still working on this goal, but it’s the little things, folks. Less laundry equals a happy Angel! Oh, and yeah, I’d totally like my six-pack back!
24Life: What advice do you have for others who are just starting out or want to quit?
24Life: Any specific rituals that you have that you think may be helpful to others?
AR: Find good music. I don’t know if this is a liability on my journey, but my music fuels my intense workouts. I must, must, must have good music when I train. This drives my adrenaline, and puts me in the proper state for a great workout. I guess that you must find your own way to “get in the zone.” I can’t say what will work for you, but I can suggest music.
I also clench my teeth, grunt, scream and taunt myself as I train. I become my own drill instructor in the gym. People think I’m a little crazy, but then those same people ask me what it is that I’ve done [to get results]! I tell them to be crazy just like me! Don’t worry about who’s laughing or watching. Focus on your workout, get in the zone and crush it!
24Life: What did you do when you made a mistake or got frustrated with your results?
AR: When I make a mistake, I simply accept that life goes on. It is what it is. Will you forget all of the good because of a little bad? Will you throw away hours and hours of effort because of a minor slip-up? No, this is simply not an option.
I think that once you accept and understand that this is a long-term thing, those minor setbacks are at most annoyances to be brushed off. It’s not easy, but over time, you’ll get better at it. Each time it will become slightly less difficult. “Oh, I’ve been here before, I know how this story goes, moving right along!”
24Life: What is your go-to workout?
24Life: What’s next for you? Do you have any goals that you’re going after?
AR: I’ve recently started teaching Zumba, along with other formats. I find great joy in fitness dancing, and I’d like to share that with as many people as I can.
Also, I’m still relatively new (and do struggle) with yoga. (I’m very tight.) So this is one of the newer elements I’ve added to my training. Along with making my body more supple, the mind-body training is also helping me become calmer and more centered. I’ve added floating, meditation and other mind-body components to my lifestyle. The possibilities are infinite and I’m exploring them all!
Photo credit: Courtesy of Angel Rodriguez
Please note that the results that Angel has experienced are unique to him, and your results may vary. Always consult your health care provider before undertaking changes in your diet or fitness regimen.