Fat Man to Ironman

My Story:

Once upon a time. . .

My training journey began, interestingly enough, on Thanksgiving Day, 2003. At that time, I was tipping the scales at nearly 600 pounds. I went to work that day, even though I had been battling a bad cough all fall. I never sought help because I figured I could just "tough it out". Not a very sensible course of action. I was standing at the filing cabinet, putting away some paperwork, when I experienced a coughing fit so bad it nearly made me pass out. So, prompted by a caring supervisor, I checked myself into minor emergency and saw a doctor. That visit turned out to be a huge reality check. I found out I had severe bronchitis, but that wasn't the worst part. As my doctor bluntly put it; “You’re obesity is seriously affecting your health now.” I found out that my blood was low in oxygen, partly due to the bronchitis and partly due to my weight. This was putting undue stress on my heart and I was told that I was probably going to have a heart attack very soon.

WOW! Not "maybe", not "some day, a few years from now," not, "if you don't straighten up", not when I was in my fifties. . .

A-N-Y. . . D-A-Y. . .

I decided right then and there that I was going to get a gastric bypass. I met with a nutritionist and had a series of visits with my doctor in preparation for the surgery. However, just as I was preparing to meet with the surgeon and schedule the surgery, my insurance company sent me a letter saying that they wouldn't cover my surgery. I was devastated. I thought this surgery was my last hope, now it was gone.

I had a choice to make. I remembered a line from The Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy living, or get busy dying."


I honestly believe that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Whenever God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. Well, in January, just after the arrival of the New Year, a Weight Watchers group was starting in my office. My doctor had talked about Weight Watchers as something to try before the surgery, so I decided that I’d join my co-workers and try to take off a few pounds. I didn't really think it was going to change my life, but I decided I would give it 100% and see what happened.

Another source of inspiration, believe it or not, came from a Christmas present my wife Amy had given me. It was a book by Dr. Phil titled "The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom." I read it over the holidays and really got a lot out of it. I learned a lot of things from it, but mainly that I had to change the way I pictured myself if I were to have any shot at a successful weight loss program.

On New Year’s Day, I made a resolution. I was going to give Weight Watchers everything I had. I would make it work, no matter what. I decided not to look at weight loss as a negative thing. I was going to stay positive about it. For the past 20 years, I’d made myself a victim of obesity. I refused to be a victim any longer. It was all up to me.

Weight Watchers taught me how to track my calories by following a simple, points-based system. One of the most important components to my success was that I never ate more than my daily-allotted amount of food, ever. This was black and white: I refused to let myself cheat.

Be that as it may, I still never felt deprived. I am certain that there are always options and possibilities. I could eat as much as I wanted without going over my point allowance; I just had to make intelligent decisions about what I ate. I also learned how to be strategic with my eating, because deprivation leads to discouragement, and I refused to let myself get discouraged.

It worked. My first year on the program, I lost over 240 pounds, and it made a huge difference. I had a new life. I changed... I was different.

I was so grateful for the wisdom that I received from Dr. Phil’s book that I decided to write him and say “thank you.” Much to my surprise, he actually wrote me back and invited me to be a guest on his show. I got to fly down to Hollywood, meet Dr. Phil, and share my story with the nation. It aired on January 4th, 2005.


I had been opposed to exercise my entire life. I hated P.E. class as a kid. I’d always hated exercise and didn’t think it would ever change. But somehow, it did.

Inspiration struck three months into my journey. I was down about 70 pounds by then, and I was actually beginning to feel more energetic. It was a beautiful day in March. My wife and were carpooling, and she usually dropped me off at my office on the way to her office. That day, we were running a little early and I had an extra hour to kill before my shift started, so I told Amy, "I’ll go to work with you and walk from there." That was it. A simple impulse decision that changed my life.

I walked to work that day, and it was like the dawning of a brand new era. It was the best day of work I ever had. I felt smarter, happier, and more alert than ever before. Words can’t describe what a wonderful day that was. I wanted to do it again because I loved the way it made me feel, so it became my new routine.

My morning trip amounted to almost a mile of walking, and it wasn’t long before I craved more. I started using my half-hour lunch break to fit in a second walk. It only took me 10 minutes to eat my lunch, so I did that on my ten-minute break. Soon after that, I increased my mileage again by walking back to my wife’s office at the end of the day. Before long, I was up to three miles a day of intentional exercise.

Every May, Spokane is host to the world's largest timed road race. It's called Bloomsday, and it's a 12k (7.4 mile) fun run. I began to wonder, why couldn’t I do Bloomsday? All I had to do was double my daily mileage. That shouldn't be too difficult. So, I registered for the race. Keep in mind, I wasn’t ready to walk 7 miles at that point, but I knew that if I waited, I might have never gone through with it. What I needed the most was a goal.

I was absolutely thrilled to complete Bloomsday in 2004. My wife and I crossed the finish line in 3 and 1/2 hours. We didn't come in last place, but we were close. They shut down the finish line 5 minutes after we crossed it.

That race was a very, very difficult endeavor. I’d lost 100 pounds by then, but I still weighed almost 500 and was by no means in "good shape." The next day I was very sore. In fact, I could barely move, but I was so proud of myself, I didn't care. I started to realize that I could do anything I put my mind to, all I had to do was set a realistic goal, and then put in the necessary work to reach that goal.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking, but after a while it started to get boring. Eventually I got to the point where I didn’t look forward to it anymore. I knew that if I wanted to continue being successful, I had to mix things up. So, I went to Wal*Mart and bought a cheap $50 mountain bike. Now, I wasn't sure if I would even be able to ride a bike. After all, I hadn't been on one since I was 8 years old. Besides that, I still weighed over 400 pounds, but I figured that if I broke it I was only out fifty bucks, so what did I have to lose? The first time I rode it to work (4 miles), I thought I was going to die. My butt was sore, my legs were on fire, and my hands ached from gripping the handlebars. But, you know what? I felt that same sense of joy and excitement as that day in March. I was back on track.

Biking to and from work took the place of walking until winter arrived. (It's kind of hard to ride in the snow.) When the winter blahs set in, I began working with a personal trainer. He told me that you need to mix up your routine every 90 days to keep things fresh, and to prevent your body from adjusting to any one workout. From then on, my fitness level, and race participation, evolved quickly.

When Bloomsday came around the next year, I was down almost 260 pounds. I didn't walk Bloomsday this time — I ran it. A week later, I completed a half-marathon. It was a small event, less than 100 runners, but I had a great experience. I finished dead last, but that was really cool. I was still pretty slow, and I remember being at the 12.5-mile mark when the finish line was scheduled to close. I was really disappointed, but I was determined to finish. I knew my family would be there to cheer me on when I came in. To my surprise, the race organizers held the finish line open just for me. They even announced my arrival over the loud speaker. The cool thing about finishing last is that everyone else is already there. They were all applauding and cheering me on. That gave me a huge burst of energy for that last stretch.

Two months later, I completed a sprint distance triathlon (1/4 mile swim, 13 mile bike, 3 mile run) in Chelan, WA called My First Triathlon. The most exciting part about this event was that the entire thing was being filmed from start to finish. John Curley from Evening Magazine came down to Chelan to chronicle my journey. Amazingly, after coming out of the water in 195th place (out of 200), I managed to pass everyone else and finish the bicycle leg in 12th place. I wound up placing 50th overall, but this amazing experience instilled in me the desire to do more and longer triathlons.

In April of this year, as part of my training program, I plan on competing in the Gulfman Olympic distance triathlon. This race starts out with a one-mile swim. I'm telling you, there’s no way I can swim a mile right now, but with the help of my coach and teammates, I have no doubt that I will be ready in April.

By the time I hit the beach at the JAL International Triathlon in May, I will be in the best shape of my entire life. This is very important to me, because this time, I will not be racing for me. This time, I will be racing for a cure.

A new life

To date, I have lost over 375 pounds. I'm only 25 pounds from my ultimate goal of 170, but most of that weight is excess skin. The expensive surgery I require to remove it is simply out of reach for me right now, but I'm confident that in time, I’ll find a way. Besides, I've got bigger things to think about.

In 2005, I become a father. My son, George, motivates me to stay on course. When I look back at my own childhood, I realize that my schedule was the same every day... come home from school, watch TV, have dinner, then my parents and I would watch TV together. My whole life was sedentary. Now, I think about my son. He doesn't have to live that kind of life. He’ll get to do sports. He'll get to be active. I can’t wait until he learns how to walk so we can walk together. I can’t wait until he learns to ride a bike so we can ride together. I will be right by his side when he finishes his first triathlon.

Today, I am just like the person I always envied. I am the man I always wished I could be. And, the bottom line is that I’m going to be alive to see my son graduate from high school, to see him graduate from college.

A message of hope

People constantly ask me, "What is your secret?" "How can I change my life?" My answer is always the same: Get started right now. Right this minute. What can you do to make a change, beginning with the next thing you put in your mouth? Don’t put it off. Don’t wait. Don’t say, "I’ll get back on track after the holidays," or "...after my birthday" or "...after Payday." I'm telling you, you deserve better than that. Do it today. Do it at dinner tonight. Are you going to have a salad? Get some fat-free dressing, or use salsa (yummy). Grill your chicken instead of frying it. Make sure that half of your plate is covered with veggies. It's easy to get going. All you have to do is get going.

To those of you who have struggled with obesity, you know that permanent weight loss can seem out of reach. But you can’t accept that mentality. If I can change my life, so can you. I'm not better than anyone else out there. I just made a decision. I decided that this is what I wanted for my life, and I realized that I was worth it.


"If you have been searching for a profoundly inspiring and truly amazing speaker to motivate and entertain your upcoming function, then James Hicks, the “Fat Man to Ironman” is your man. James has an incredible story of success to share. His infectious positive attitude and great sense of humor are sure to guarantee an entertaining and truly motivational presentation that will touch many aspects of your life. No matter what your organization’s needs might be, James is able to reach and make any audience strive for success. His unique insights will teach you how to turn every negative aspect of life into a positive and productive experience, giving him an advantage that most speakers do not possess. James has experience speaking to groups of all sizes, and can provide any service from an informal family counseling session to a stadium sized keynote address, and has been featured on several popular television programs. So, once again, if your needs are motivation, the “Fat Man to Ironman” is your man!"

Email me for pricing and availability, or for an update on my current progress.

Update 7/20/09 - If you missed the story about me that aired on Evening Magazine, you can view it here.

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