In June I ran into an old acquaintance I had not seen in a decade. I had no idea who he was until he told me and even then I was doubtful. I know facial features are bound to change in a 10-year span, but the man standing before me bore no resemblance to the man I once knew
Here’s his story.
Mark Chancey was an athlete during his high school years in Ontario. He played varsity football, rugby and golf. But all that changed in the years following high school. Mark moved back to St. John’s and enrolled in Memorial University where he became a couch potato. His evenings consisted of kicking back to watch TV in the company of a large bag of chips, a chocolate bar and a soft drink.
“Every night ended with eating,” says Mark. “We used to spend a lot of time on George Street and then we’d come back and eat.”
It didn’t take long for Mark’s weight to creep up. Soon the size large shirts he wore no longer fit. He moved up to extra large. Then XL changed to 2XL. When 2XL became 3XL, Mark suspected he had reached 300 pounds.
“For a long time I didn’t get on scales,” says Mark. “You don’t need scales to tell you you’re gaining weight.”
It wasn’t until Mark’s 31st birthday on Jan. 11, 2003, that he decided to change how he lived. He had graduated from Memorial and was working as manager of marketing and information services with Metrobus, the same job he does today.
“My 31st birthday was a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons,” he writes. “I’m not exactly sure why, but on that Saturday morning in 2003, I decided to jump on the bathroom scales, a chore I had avoided simply because I knew the news would not be good and I hadn’t been prepared to face reality. I can remember looking down at the LED screen on the scale, waiting for it to throw back a number. Next, I recall slowly lifting my head back up and staring into the mirror, horrified with what I had just seen …”
Shocked by weight
What Mark had seen staring up at him was 351 pounds.
“My feelings of shock and bewilderment (turned) to disgust. How could I, an above average high-school athlete, a rugby player, a football player, a golfer, an active person, have turned into what was looking back at me in the mirror? I had always known I had put on weight over the years. I even thought I was getting close to 300 lbs. But when I saw 351 lbs on that fateful morning, it became clear rather quickly that change was inevitable.
“I didn’t want to be ‘cuddly’ anymore. I didn’t want to wear triple extra large shirts and 46 inch-waisted pants. I wanted to be an athlete. I wanted to be in shape.”
I asked Mark if a trip to the doctor had made him change. “A lot of people have asked me if there was one defining moment when I decided I had to make a change. For me, it wasn’t a doctor’s warning; it wasn’t a heart attack or any other weight-related medical problem.
“That morning in my bathroom was it for me.”
Mark then took it upon himself to put together a walking program. “I distinctly recall I broke a sweat getting ready to go for that first walk. But I’m that type of personality — if I say I’ll do something, I stick with it.”
And, unbelievably, Mark’s own program paid off. To the point that seven months later he was able to run/walk 10 miles.
“I gave up the Doritos, Pepsi and chocolate bars I was eating every night. I gave up alcohol altogether. I wrote down everything I ate. If you write it down you’re accountable to yourself,” he explains.
“My favourite food is pizza. I ate it every Friday. I still eat it, but just two or three pieces,” says Mark explaining it wasn’t only unhealthy food choices he had a problem with, but also portion sizes.
So, throughout 2003, Mark continued to walk and record what he ate. He even began running.
“I was a runner before. I knew what was involved. The following July I did my first Tely.”
A little while later, a co-worker asked Mark if he could run with him. Mark, being Mark, not only said yes, but suggested inviting other employees to participate and the Metrobus running club was born — Tenacity to Finish, or T2F for short.
That group of co-workers trained together for the rest of that year and into the next. The following September they went to Toronto as a group to run the Scotiabank Marathon.
Since then, Mark has continued to run.
He just got back from P.E.I. where he meets family members every October to run the Bell Aliant 10-km race in Charlottetown that’s part of the Prince Edward Island Marathon Weekend.
“I pick certain races to keep me focused throughout the year,” says Mark. “I love a start line.”
Mark usually does ANE’s Boston Pizza Flat Out 5 km in the spring, then the Tely 10 followed by Charlottetown in October. As if seeing his life in reverse, Mark’s 3XL shirts went down to 2XL.
Then, after a couple of years, 2XL went down to XL. Then XL went down to large and Mark had reached his target weight, which was 130 pounds less than his maximum weight back on his 31st birthday.
Took a few years
“I had lost 100 pounds by mid 2007, so it took a few years. I was doing it right, though, counting calories and exercising. Through all the quick-fix fad diets, the formula for losing weight has not changed: you have to burn more than you consume and do it in a way that is sustainable. I reached my goal weight of 220 lbs on June 26, 2008, and celebrated by buying a brand new, expensive navy blue suit. By May 6, 2009, I was down to 199 lbs and people started asking if I was sick.”
Today, Mark’s goal is to stay around 210 lbs, a much healthier weight for his five-foot-eleven frame.
“You make it all sound so easy,” I tell Mark when he’s done recounting his fairy tale.
“I don’t remember it being hard,” he says. “I began counting calories right from the beginning. I saw results right away. Now I have an app on my phone that does it for me. But the hard part for me is realizing I have to do this for the rest of my life — I can’t stop.”
“What happens if you stop,” I ask.
“I’d put the weight back on,” Mark says.
But that’s not going to happen. Now the father of a four-year-old son, Andrew, who loves to be outside, Mark says there’s no way he’s going back 10 years.
“My goal is to be able to keep up with my son. When I was growing up, our parents had to drag us off the dimly-lit street after a 10-hour hockey game every Saturday and Sunday. I want Andrew to play and be outside as often as he can.”
To learn more about Mark Chancey’s journey, visit www.therunningcoach.ca.
Susan Flanagan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Harbour Fence feedback: Helena Gough writes: “Thank you for your attempt to get the City Fathers to reconsider their decision re installation and part payment for that tall iron (sic) harbour fence. It’s offensive. Early summer I sent Mayor O’Keefe an email to that effect and said that having us taxpayers to contribute almost half million dollars for this was adding insult to injury. He answered me within hours and was spitting nails saying that what was there, (the wire portable fence) was ugly. … Never did entertain the idea of having the cruise ships go to the south side and this is only about 14/15 times per season. Maybe down the road a more innovative council will be elected and this barrier can go somewhere else. I liked the visiting artist’s red painted message: ‘What Lies Between Us.’”
David Murphy writes: “You should not be so hard on Sean Hanrahan; he is only trying to protect the foolish anti-fence people from themselves and their lack of knowledge. … A gawker … in the early 1980s was killed standing too close to a crane lifting a boat out of the water at Harbourside Park. The straps slipped and the hook struck him in the head. ... Poor fellow didn’t stand a chance. … Over the past 35 years or so there have been … suicide attempts made by distressed folks who came crashing down the dock at high speeds with no regard to walkers before going over the edge. Some died, some were rescued. Busy place, that harbour front; best to keep the fence people, who think they are invincible, well away from such a heavy work place. Sean Hanrahan is only trying to protect these folks from their own foolishness. Historically that area is a place of business. Parks are for those who wish to stroll around; Bowring Park is a good place for them to start.”
* A typo in this column's headline has been corrected.