My name is Kevin Dunn and first and foremost I am a father—I have four kids. Right away, I say all things fall below that. It is the most important thing I do, the scorecard that will mean the most when all is said and done.
I work in software, which isn’t the most encouraging environment for a health-minded individual. On top of that I travel quite a bit, which can wreak havoc on the best of intentions. I coach baseball, soccer, football and pretty much anything else my kids need me for!
About five years ago, I was pushing 280 pounds and eating horribly. That all changed with one photograph.
This is my transformation story.
24Life: Where does your fitness journey begin?
Kevin Dunn: I have always been a lifelong gym enthusiast. I started at a very young age, and back then, the focus was lifting. I was 13 and immediately fell in love with the challenges and tests lifting weights gives you on a daily basis. When I got to high school and started playing football, it was mandatory to hit the weights, and I was extremely fortunate to meet the most fundamental character in the story of my fitness journey. My football coach was a student of fundamentals and core movements—powerlifting and Olympic movements. Form and function always trumped the total pounds. We checked our ego at the door every day, and what we did the previous day meant very little compared to what we owed that day. I like to say if you can have talent, passion and opportunity meet at the same time, you have the best possible chance to succeed. I was lucky enough to have those three crash into one another.
Over time, my focus maintained on weights and strength, and I was oblivious to nutrition. I would go to the gym daily and put up some incredible numbers, but never saw the slow transformation of the swollen belly, the fuller face, the bloated arms and legs. I had body dysmorphia when I looked at myself. Plus, I think men have a habit of seeing what they want to see in the mirror. I saw the barrel chest and the thick arms. I seemed to overlook the expanding waistband and groaning scale.
24Life: Do you remember the moment that you decided you wanted and needed a change?
KD: I am pretty fortunate to know the exact moment when I needed to make a change. September 22, 2012. I was coaching my son’s soccer game and one of the moms had sent me a candid picture she had caught while I was in the middle of instructing the boys. I had no idea a camera was on me. There was no being in the right position, sucking in the gut, looking for a flattering angle, flexing. I was caught in a moment in time. That day she sent me the picture talking about how great the game was, and all I could do was stare at this unedited version of me. I looked huge. I was embarrassed.
I showed the picture to my friends and asked if that’s what I look like. They told me in that moment, at that angle, that is exactly what I look like. There was no place to hide. I weighed myself that night and saw the largest number I had ever seen on my scale: 279 pounds. I am 5-foot-11-inches. I am certain I weighed more than 280 pounds at some point, but the largest number I had ever seen was 100 pounds greater than when I graduated high school.
24Life: Who has helped you along the way?
KD: The mom, Ragan, who took the picture is the first person I can give credit to, because she showed me the naked truth. That photo was the catalyst that started my journey. I immediately began correcting my eating.
After three months, a very athletic friend of mine, Chris, invited me to work out with him and his gym partner. Both were very early adopters of CrossFit and they took me through a circuit that brought me to my knees. I pushed and continued through the workout, essentially gutting it out. They were really encouraging, and Chris set goals for me before I walked out. He asked me what I weighed, at that time 258 pounds. He challenged me to lose five pounds in five days, and to take a picture of the scale and send it to him. That went on for the next six weeks.
My sister-in-law asked me to do a short obstacle course race with her. That was a huge eye opener on just how poor my running was. I started doing 5Ks, then 10Ks, and found a unique race called the Double Race. You run a 10K and then a 5K. It sounded insane to me. After that, I had a buddy, Dave, who challenged me to run the Livermore Half Marathon. I protested, saying I wasn’t a runner. He pushed me hard, and I ended up doing the race. Afterward, I remember everyone coming up to me, excited for me and asking if I was hooked on these. I felt like a mother who had just given birth to her first child and was asked if she wanted another baby, just moments after the first was born. No, I did not. Dave asked me what I thought, and I told him it sucked. He said, “Yeah, you’re not a runner.” I said, “That’s what I told you!” So, he introduced me to the Spartan Race.
For those who don’t know, Spartan Races are obstacle course races of varying lengths: Sprint, Super and Beast. I had no real knowledge of them, but decided I was just going to do one and move on. Dave counseled hard against me signing up for the Beast on my first race (14 miles and 30 obstacles), but I thought it was a nice life resume thing. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. When I got home that night, I signed up for two more events to complete my trifecta (the Sprint and Super) that year.
While running the Beast, around mile seven I saw an older, heavy-set guy. He had knee braces and a severe limp. I remember watching him in pure fascination. How the hell was he all the way out here? He continued to take a step at a time and move forward. The next day I had checked the results. I went all the way to the bottom. Male. 66 years old. 11:44. Almost 12 hours. This guy just kept moving forward and NEVER quit. So, I can think back to a lot of people who were inspiring and important to me on my journey. But that nameless guy is always one thought away from being centermost in my mind for every athletic endeavor.
24Life: What kept—and keeps you—motivated to stay the course?
KD: This is a really important question, because everyone is going to have a reason to start, and that’s not always going to be the same as why. Something will finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and motivates you to take action. Continuing to take action is something else.
For me, how my kids see me is my largest motivator. I have also found that motivating others has kept me accountable. I feel like I owe it to those I am trying to inspire, and that fuels my inspiration. I want to lead by example. Another trick has been continuing to train FOR something—5Ks became 10Ks, which became half marathons. Having a few specific dates helps keep you moving.
24Life: What has surprised you the most about yourself during this journey?
KD: The largest surprise has been hearing I inspire people. The number of people who have told me they feel shocked or awed by my accomplishments; people that have met me in the last couple of years thought I have always looked like this. They often think it must be easy for me.
I have been fairly surprised at how much I enjoy crazy races, too! I am set to do my third 50K race in a couple of months. Not just a 50K, but up substantial elevation! You’d think I would check the box on the life resume, feeling accomplished, but no…I keep going back for more punishment!
24Life: What has been the most challenging part of your journey, and did you overcome it?
KD: This one took me a long time to really “see,” but it is balance. For me, the act of going to the gym was always there. The control around food was definitely an issue. But, the balance of what is important to me versus what’s important to everything else was and is a huge challenge. The act of putting yourself first when you have children is completely foreign to a parent. I go to the gym at 4:30 a.m. That probably sounds crazy but you have to find what works best for you to be successful. I go when my kids are asleep, and when I am fresh. I just can’t see going to work all day and then going to the gym, and only seeing my kids on weekends. Plus, if you do burpees first thing in the morning, it really doesn’t matter what happens to you the rest of the day. You know the burpees were the worst part, and you got through it!
24Life: What is your favorite workout, and your least favorite?
KD: My favorite exercise is the deadlift. You use your whole body in harmony to pick an ungodly amount of weight off the ground. If I was alone on a desert island and told I could only do one exercise, it would be the deadlift. My least favorite would be the burpee. So simple. So mean. Which means, I love it. Put the two moves together and you have all the ingredients you need to be the best physical version of yourself in a relatively short timeframe.
24Life: What advice do you have for others who are just starting their fitness journey, or those want to give up?
KD: My best advice to someone starting off is think small. Make a small adjustment in your routine. If you don’t go to the gym, make a commitment that you will go two times a week. If you are afraid of the weight room, make a commitment to learn one new move in the weight room. If you have a set routine and feel like you are mailing it in, do one more round, add five pounds to a machine, do five more reps. Just add SOMETHING to what you are already doing. Your fitness journey starts with those steps.
24Life: What is the best fitness advice you’ve ever received?
KD: It is from Dory in “Finding Nemo”: “Just keep swimming.” It sounds silly. But keep moving forward. Hurt your elbow? You still show up for legs, cardio, abs. Hurt your ankle? You can do upper body. Had a caloric binge-fest this weekend? Start over tomorrow with a sensible meal. If you have air in your lungs, if your blood is pumping, you get up and keep moving forward. Honestly, even if you don’t believe in you, know that someone else does. I do: I don’t even know you, but if I am doing it, you can do it. I believe in you.
24Life: Do you have any specific rituals that you think may be helpful to others?
KD: I am a creature of habit and routine. I start every day with 30 grams of protein when I first wake up. I have my workout clothes out and my gym bag packed with my work clothes ready to go, the night before. Give yourself every opportunity to be successful. Know what you are going to do when you get to the gym. There’s no bigger time waste than walking into the gym with no plan.
24Life: What do you do when you fall behind schedule or get frustrated with your results?
KD: This happens to everyone. I have a habit of really getting down on myself for the small things, but I let them go very quickly. I know this is a long game. Life, itself, is a marathon. There’s no time limit on reaching your goals. If you miss a milestone, you get a whole new set of opportunities tomorrow. If you missed a physical accomplishment and just can’t seem to improve, ask for help. There are so many places for you to find help, from great trainers in the gym, to online tutorials, to asking your friends in the gym. People ask me for advice and if I don’t know the answer, I’m happy to help find it.
24Life: What’s next for you?
KD: I am continuing to find things I suck at and push myself harder. I am NOT a great swimmer. Honestly, I don’t really enjoy it that much. Guess what was in my workout today? Swimming.
This year, I have many obstacle course runs. My first Ragnar Trail run (a team running event that runs around the clock, while you run through the woods during all hours of the day/night), a 50K, a few half marathons and at least one half Ironman. My fitness goals are going to be different than most. My goal is to deadlift 500 pounds the same week as running a 50K. Not many people who can deadlift that much have any aspirations to run at all, let alone that far. Anyone who loves running those distances is not looking to lift that kind of weight. My goal is to be a hybrid athlete, strong and athletic, while hopefully having a lot of fun and inspiring others along the way.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Kevin Dunn