Managing life and loss through fitness

Social media is incredible.

While the technology that powers the Facebooks, Instagrams, Twitters and Snapchats of the world is nothing remarkable, the outlet social media provides us to discover other peoples’ stories and for us to tell our own stories is unprecedented and unique to our time and place in history.

And while social media, especially in the fitness world, can get a bad rap, filled with a never-ending stream of chiseled ab selfies captioned with canned motivational quotes, many of the Featured Fit Dads that I’ve showcased on this site have come from connections made through social media.

I’ve tried to connect with and tell the story of other guys who not only make it a point to be a father to their children first, but also dedicate themselves to their health and fitness through a variety of ways to create a better, healthier life for themselves.

But for as much as fitness can give us new life, it can also help us deal with loss.

I connected with Ross Pagat through Instagram as I was searching through images with the hashtag #fitdad.

Ross Pagat, with his wife, Karisma, and their son, Liam

Ross is a pretty remarkable guy. He has dedicated his life to helping others in his small Hawaiian community, both through his professional career as a long-term substitute teacher of sorts, and also through fitness. His community does not have a full-scale gym, only a tiny Parks and Recreation facility that holds about eight people. And so Ross, after he himself got hooked on fitness through P90X and Insanity thanks to the recommendation of a friend, is a Beachbody coach and teaches two group classes of Insanity a week for members of his community.

“It’s such a small town – everyone knows everyone,” Ross says. “When I opened up the Insanity class, it allowed the community to come out. A lot of of people have thanked me for giving them an option to exercise and stay healthy.”

And because it’s such a small town, most know the heart-wrenching journey Ross has overcome over the past six months, and most have seen how fitness has been a foundation for a grieving father’s comeback story.

Just months ago, Ross, his wife, Karisma, and their two-year-old son, Liam, were set to welcome the fourth member of their family into the world, a second son named Caleb.

“When we found out we were having another child, we were excited,” Ross says. “Everything went normal. Every doctor’s appointment that we went to was normal. All the tests that she took came back fine, and we just felt like, ‘OK, cool, everything is good and we’re going to have another child.’”

When Caleb finally arrived in July, doctor’s immediately noticed something was wrong with the newborn baby boy and rushed him out of the delivery room. Ross was not far behind.

“I went with him to the emergency part of the hospital to see what was going on,” Ross says. “I went back to check on my wife, and she was fine, and she just said, ‘Go back and be with our son.’”

The reason the doctors were so concerned was that Caleb’s belly did not look right. Unable to determine what was wrong with the child, arrangements were made to medivac him to a larger hospital on the island of Oahu.

As they waited for the emergency airplane, the doctors and nurses continued to work to try to figure out what was wrong with Caleb.

“The whole time, you’re just praying. It’s hard to see something like that,” Ross says. “I wouldn’t want any other parent to go through that and see their child on the table like that and see the nurses work on him.”

Despite the hospital staff’s best efforts, at 10 p.m., five hours after he had been born, Caleb passed away, just as the air ambulance crew had arrived at the community hospital.

Later, tests would reveal that Caleb was born with autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease, an enlargement of the kidneys and an underdevelopment of the lungs. One in 20,000 babies are born with it, and while survival rates have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, the most critical time during the disease is in the hours immediately after birth.

In the months after Caleb’s passing, Ross’ previous dogged dedication to fitness understandably fell by the wayside.

“As much as I thought that I should keep up with exercising, I just didn’t have the heart for it. All I wanted to do was be close to my wife and my son and just spend as much time with them,” Ross says. “There were times when I stayed in bed with them a lot. We didn’t go out. We just sort of stayed home. We had family and friends come over to try to encourage us, which we were very grateful for. But I just wanted to be close to my wife and my son and spend as much time with them.

“So I wasn’t exercising, and with our community being small as it is, a lot of people brought over food to encourage us and comfort us, which I appreciated, but I also just ended up eating and eating. And when you eat and eat and don’t do anything active, you start to put on weight.”

Ross put on roughly 15 pounds in a month and a half, and struggled to find motivation to do much about it. But a man of determined faith in God, Ross turned to his convictions and asked for divine intervention.

“I just kept praying, ‘What should I do? How do I get out of this slump?’” Ross says. “I don’t know exactly what day it was, but it just sort of clicked in my head that I had to do something positive – for my wife, for myself and for my son.”

While continuing to ask God for strength and help, Ross also reached out to family and friends and asked for their help in reigniting his health journey by participating in a fitness group. Everyone he asked agreed to help. For the community Ross had given so much to, it was a chance for the community to give back to Ross.

After not exercising for a month and a half, Ross says the hardest thing was getting used to the initial soreness. However, each morning, despite how sore he was, Ross would get in his workout in his garage. Making his comeback one day at a time, eventually, he started feeling better. Emotionally and mentally, he gradually eased into a better state.

“Being with my wife and my son, they began to see that I was more positive – things were more positive in our house and not so much sadness,” Ross says.

It has now been just a few months since Ross got back into working out and eating healthy again, and he has already lost seven pounds. He says he has no specific desire for six-pack abs, only that he wants “to be healthy and stay healthy for my wife and son, and any future children that we may have.”

And he wants others to understand perhaps his greatest lesson he’s learned in the trials he’s faced over the past six months as a father: Use the time you’ve been given to do something with it.

“Be aware of all that you have. We only have one life, and we have to make good choices with the life we’ve been given,” Ross says. “Trust in God, and make good choices now, because you never know when something could happen and you could be gone. Try to find something healthy to do. It doesn’t have to be the workouts that I do in my garage. Even if it’s going for a walk or jogging or biking or doing something active and fun, go and do something positive. And if you have children, put them first, and think about how you want them to see you. Know that they’re always watching us.

“Be thankful for what you have and count your blessings.”


Turning motivation into habit: Lucas Gutierrez’ transformation story

There was a time when Lucas Gutierrez couldn’t imagine doing a pullup. There was a time when going on a run was a foreign concept to him. There was a time when doctors told a 15-year-old Lucas that he wouldn’t live the see the age of 18.

Lucas Gutierrez has transformed his life, having lost 300 pounds since 2008.
These days, Lucas has a lot to be thankful for, including the fact that those times are gone.

“I used to think, ‘I’ll never be able to do that,’” Lucas said, referring to working out, running or doing cardio. “Now that I can do those things, that’s really cool.”

I first learned about Lucas from an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In short, Lucas has lost 300 pounds since 2008, going from a 475-pound high school sophomore deemed “severely morbidly obese” to a running, lifting, working-out, active, 175-pound father and marketing student at UNLV.

It’s a remarkable story of man overcoming a lifetime of challenges to set a new course for his life, and I knew I wanted to talk with him and learn more of his story.

We connected recently, and I got to spend some time talking with him about what his life is like as a man who faced a choice – either lose weight, or risk never seeing the age of 20.

As detailed in the original article, Lucas’ fitness journey actually began out of heartbreak.

When Lucas initially made the decision to try to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle, it was his mother who was there by his side. The two committed to losing weight together, and just as they began seeing results, Lucas lost his mother to surgical complications after she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

That loss sent Lucas into a depression, until New Year’s Eve 2008, when he ultimately made up his mind that he would finish what he started.

“I felt my mom’s presence. I felt God there with me. They were just telling me to go the full way and to see this through,” Lucas said. “It honestly could have been any other day. It didn’t have to be New Year’s. But a good excuse to start a new lifestyle is a new year. I really felt like my mom was there pushing me.”

As I read the original story, I was amazed by Lucas’ resiliency. Several times, he suffered setbacks and gained weight back that he’d lost. But then, in 2014, Lucas became a father, providing him with what he describes as the last big push of motivation to continue his fitness journey.  

Lucas and his son, Atreyu
“I realized that I wanted to be strong and healthy so that way I can enjoy my life with my son,” Lucas said in the Review-Journal article, “unlike my mother who didn’t have that chance.”

Over the last 6-7 months, Lucas has dropped roughly 100 pounds to weigh in at 175 pounds. His workout regimen consists of a three-day weightlifting split of chest and triceps, back and biceps, and legs, with cardio every day. He makes sure to point out, “You never want to skip leg day,” with a laugh.

On the days he can’t make it to the gym, or even on days when he’s just finished a hard workout, Lucas also makes sure to find time to be active with his son, Atreyu.

Lucas says he sees play time with his son as a way to be present in his son’s life while also staying active himself, plus, indirectly teaching Atreyu the value of exercise and being fit.

“Parenting sometimes can get really tactical – feeding them, making sure they’re behaving, getting them to sleep. But kids just love to play,” he says. “So I’ll play with him and try to incorporate him into my lifestyle. We’ll go outside and play and do pushups and pullups. He wants to do it with me.

“I’m so thankful to have my son. He encourages me. Even when I’m tired or after a workout, I’ll still go outside with him. He gets to play, I get to spend time having fun with him and have a way to keep moving, so it’s a win win.”

The hardest part of his journey? He says it’s eating right.

“There’s bad food on every corner, everywhere you go,” Lucas says. “You have to plan to eat healthy. You have to go grocery shopping and get the right things and plan your meals. If you don’t, it’s too easy to get fast food.”

As he and I spoke, something Lucas said stood out above the rest. As a man who has overcome remarkable odds in his life and has inspired others through his story, he boils it all down to a simple mindset: “It takes motivation to get started and habit to keep you going.”

For many, starting a lifestyle of health, fitness and exercising comes down to these two things: the motivation to start and the habit to keep going. For me, as I began my fitness journey, I was the opposite of Lucas – the guy sick of being skinny and ready to commit myself to fitness, being active, and gaining muscle – but the same principles apply in both situations.

Lucas and I each wanted a better life for ourselves and to be there for our children, though I fully admit Lucas has overcome far more than Inhave had to. We each found our motivation to get going. This is the story over and over again, and it just goes to show that no matter who you are and no matter your circumstances, you can commit to a healthier lifestyle.

As for Lucas, moving forward, he wants his story to be motivating for others who are struggling with the same weight and health issues he faced. So he’s exploring becoming a nutritionist or a personal trainer to help transform others’ lives in much the same way he transformed his own.

“There are a lot of people who are trainers or coaches that have been skinny their whole lives, and they haven’t experienced what it’s like to try to lose a bunch of weight,” Lucas says. “But I’ve been on the other side of the spectrum at nearly 500 pounds, and now I can do all these things that I never thought I’d be able to do. I think that might be my calling – helping others.

“I’d love to inspire someone and show them that it can be done.”

It’s a funny thing – this fitness “bug.” Once it hooks you, you want it to spread. The way you feel – both physically and mentally – is something you want others to experience, and for Lucas, myself, and many other Fit Dads, the best way we know how is telling our story. Much the way Lucas told me.

How’s that for some motivation?

5 exercises dads and young kids can do together

For the past several weeks, I’ve been promoting this Saturday, November 12, as Workout With Dad Day on my social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram).img_8899

The goal of this day is to get dads to workout with their children, or for everyone, to get in a workout with their own father. Workout With Dad Day is all about encouraging dads to live active, involved, healthy lives with their children. I want to make it an annual thing, so I’m hoping it gains a little bit of traction this year.

If you’re like me and have children too young to take to the gym or go on a long run with, then you might be struggling to come up with exercises that they can do that will also be fun for them and keep their attention.

Just know that kids are capable of doing some pretty awesome things if they are faced with a challenge. And the encouragement of a father can be all the motivation a young child needs to step out of their comfort zone.

With that in mind, here are five exercises dads can do with their young children:

  1. Pushups – Pushups not only are a great workout, but they allow you a chance to provide your kids with a little bit of coaching on the importance of proper form and pace.
  2. Hill races – Otherwise known as hill sprints, but when you call it a race, it makes it way more fun for your kids, right?! Pick a distance that they can finish in about 5 seconds, and really make a big deal out of it when your kid beats you to the top (ket point: let your kids win).
  3. Run around the block – Or to the mailbox at the end of the street and back. Or around a track. Or wherever suits you and your children best. Pick a destination, and run there with your kiddos.
  4. Cone drills – Think back to your middle school gym class days. Remember the eraser shuttle drill? Or the ever-popular basketball court drill where you start at the baseline, and run back and forth to the free-throw line, the half-court line, and eventually the other baseline? Again, make it a race, and your kids will love it.
  5. Hot lava – I used to play this game as a kid, where I would pretend the ground/grass was hot lava, and various items I had laid out (towels, car floor mats, etc.) were the “safe zones.” I would then jump from safe zone to safe zone to try and cross the hot lava. Do this with your kids, changing up the placement of the safe zones to gradually make it more difficult.

Hopefully these give you some ideas of where to start. Be creative. Make it fun. And most of all, get moving!

As part of Workout With Dad Day, I’m holding a contest. Take pictures or videos of yourself working out with your kid(s) or you own fathers, post them to social media, use the hashtag #WorkoutWithDadDay, and tag Fit Dad Fitness in your post. The best and/or most creative post wins a $100 gift card to the restaurant or store of their choice!

Happy exercising!