Name: Jeff Birdwell
Occupation: Worcester, Massachusetts
Hometown: Field service technician
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Start Weight: 280 pounds
End Weight: 200 pounds
Time Running: 8 months
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grow up as the “big” kid. Truth is, my parents never really showed me healthy eating or its benefits. Exercise was never a focus growing up, and it wasn’t until I was in the Army that I was introduced to it.
After leaving the Army and beginning my civilian career, I didn’t realize the value of exercise that was forced on me in the service. Also, I was in my 20s and didn’t watch what I ate, thinking, “Nothing bad can happen to me,” or, “I’ll put it off until…” Well, later came, and all the pizzas and fast food caught up with me.
July 13, 2018 was the day that changed my life. I had been experiencing back pain for about a week. I went to my doctor complaining, and after some weird questions he asked to do an A1C test, which is a blood test used to diagnose type 1 and type 2 diabetes. I never thought diabetes could happen to me; I was too young. I thought I had time before I had to worry about this. But when the results came back, my A1C was over 11 percent! (A normal reading is below 5.7 percent).
My blood sugar that day was 285 mg/dL, which I was told was dangerously high. A normal level is under 100.
They started me on medicine that day, and I did not react well at all to it. At one point, I was facing the reality that I would have to take these meds for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something. From that day forward, I developed a focus on fitness and nutrition.
When I was in the Army, I was pretty good at running, and even raced the Fort Bragg 10 Miler and the Army 10 Miler while I served in Iraq. Running for me has a meditative quality that allows me to calm my mind. There’s really nothing else like it.
When I got started again, I struggled to go half a mile. Hills were nightmares, and I had to take extra recovery days after a run so I didn’t feel like death. Again though, the alternative was taking diabetes medication, which was a powerful motivator to get moving regularly, and I gradually found my groove.
Progress was not easy, and it was definitely not a straight line. As I lost the weight, the meds reacted differently. Finally, I asked my doctor what would happen if I stopped. He said that if I stopped, I ran the risk of my blood sugar running high, but the alternative was it going too low and causing more damage. So I made the decision to stop, and didn’t look back.
It was about two months later that I saw my doctor again. We did another A1C test and it was 5 percent, meaning I was no longer a diabetic. Plus, I feel amazing at my current weight of 200 pounds. I feel like I have a second chance to do the things that I want to do that I couldn’t before
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One of those things is a marathon, which I am hoping to do this year. I tried signing up for the New York City Marathon, but I did not get selected via drawing. However, I am currently looking at the New England Green River Marathon or Rock ’n’ Roll Montreal as my first.
Ultimately, I do want to earn my way into the Boston Marathon. I live so close to the route, and it just calls to me. I would love to do all of the major marathons and maybe do an ultra after. But having the honor of running Boston is my ultimate goal.
Health wise, I want to show the world diabetes is not a death sentence, that it can be fought. I want to show people what a diabetic can do. Running has done more for me than help physically change my body. It has helped me strengthen my mind as well.
For anyone wanting to go through a similar journey, the best advice I cab give is: Don’t shy away from what needs to be done. The process is not easy, and delaying the work does not make it go away. You ultimately know what needs to be done, so just go out and do it.
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This content was originally published here.