Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oprah May Have Saved My Life

Here I am with my then-boss, the late
Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon. I was about
220 lbs. when this photo was taken in 2002.
The year was 1999 and Anne and I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was fresh out of graduate school and working as a branch manager for a document-delivery company in Research Triangle Park--a truly God-awful gig. I remember the day in question. I saw my doctor for a routine physical exam. She checked my blood pressure, pulled some blood, had me stand on the scale and asked me a bunch of questions. I was about 215-220 pounds back then. When the time came for the doctor to tell me about my blood results, little did I realize what I was about to hear.

"Your iron is a bit high--we need to get that down. It's probably from too much red meat. I'd also like to see you lose some weight to get your back in better shape and reduce the discomfort you're living with. Since you mentioned your concern about your weight, here's some information on healthy eating and ways you can help prevent diabetes, heart disease, back pain and other conditions."

Here I am with some of our friends back in Indiana. Can you find me in this photo? I'm the guy in the back row on the far left, holding the beer bottle. I was easily 220  lbs. then.
Well, that's the Reader's Digest version of what she told me.

Like many Americans, I did nothing to heed my doctor's advice.

Fast forward about 4 years to 2003. By then Anne and I lived in Lafayette, Indiana, where she was working toward her small animal medicine residency at Purdue University and I was in politics (another God-awful gig). To put it mildly, we were making a modest living at the time. One night after dinner with some friends Anne suffered a terrible migraine headache that landed us in the ER of our local hospital in the wee hours of the night. When we entered the ER, she was incoherent. The doctor scanned her head to confirm the diagnosis and put her on an IV, which helped her feel better. I had to make a bunch of decisions on her behalf. She was referred to a neurologist for follow-up care. Though we were insured, the medical bills mounted. We paid all of the bills and sacrificed in the process. That seems like a lifetime ago.

50+ pounds lighter and a heck of a lot happier.
I had just won a 100-miler.
A few months later, Anne was at home--she was off-clinics at the time--and watching an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." I wasn't there, but the show centered around healthy eating and weight-loss. Oprah had a guest who espoused whole grains and warned of simple sugars. By this time we had made some tweaks to our diet to remove some migraine trigger foods, such as chocolate. But our cupboards and fridge were still full of fattening, sugar-laced foods--some of the very foods Oprah and her guests were warning us not to eat. Things like white rice, white potatoes, white pasta, white bread, sweet tea, and other sugary concoctions. Our freezer was lined with ground beef, pork chops, etc. All of it and more made up the Hornsby kitchen.

When I got home from work that night, Anne dropped the hammer on me. At the time I was easily north of 220 pounds and loving the KFC all-you-can-eat buffet. I was frustrated, too. By that time I was unhappy with my weight and had started running again. I could pretty easily run 4-5 miles and jogged a few times a week, but the weight was still there. Though still quite thin, Anne wasn't happy at all with her weight and was still thinking about her migraine attack. Changes had to be made, she demanded. No more simple sugars! We're going to eat brown rice, whole wheat pasta and whole grain bread. No more brownies and cookies. No more sweet tea! No more weekly pizza binges! (Note: Pizza is STILL our weak spot.) And the red meat needs moderation!

And so began a new life for us. For me, that was 53 pounds and 31 marathons and ultramarathons ago. For Anne, I'm not sure how many pounds ago it was, but today she looks better than ever. Vastly improved health, along with a little inspiration from a friend, Steve, and my father-in-law, Doug, an accomplished marathon walker, allowed me to achieve a dream I'd long had. In October of 2004, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio with Doug and finished the Columbus Marathon in 3:22. I'd wanted to run a marathon since I was 17. It was a dream come true and a new trajectory for my life. By this time I'd joined my first running club and quickly the running community became something of a second family to me.

I look back on those unhealthy years and I can't believe it. At age 25, I was having trouble getting out of my car due to lower-back pain. I wore size 38 pants and a size 46 suit (now size 33 pants and a 40/42 suit). I used to have to wear wide-width shoes. Now I wear regular-width shoes (when you're overweight your feet swell). I really believe that episode of Oprah was the tipping point for us. As soon as we made the changes, the weight came off. When we made more changes, more weight came off. Today, if I pick up two 25-pound dumbbells, it hits me that I was carrying all of that and more at one time in my life. It's no wonder my lower back hurt so badly.

I think I sometimes get really caught up in the next race and my training and let my ego rule my attitude. It's said you should never forget where you came from. I think I often forget what this blog is really about. I started it in 2007 as a guy who had just run his first 100-miler and was so full of love for this sport and the way of life that I wanted to share it with others.

Why am I saying all of this? Yesterday I got another e-mail from an inspired reader looking for a healthier life and a better way. Then I looked through some of this site's "followers" and discovered some incredible stories on their own blogs. Following me are not only fellow ultra runners, but also people who are fighting their weight, making breakthroughs in their personal health, enduring setbacks and wresting with temptation. They're fighting the good fight every day. I know many runners who at one time battled a weight problem or smoked or even faced a frightening diagnosis. One day, for whatever reason, they'd had enough, found an old pair of athletic shoes in their garage and gone for a little run. The rest is history. Many runners have that story to tell.

If you're reading this and unhappy about your health and want to do something about, check your garage or the back of your closet for that old pair of running shoes. Give 'em a go!

The journey toward better health is a difficult one with bumps in the road and a few diversions. The key for all of us is to stay on course and quickly find your way back when you get lost. Don't be hard on yourself; have faith in yourself. Keep at it. Never give up. Always search for better ways. Above all else....

Get 'er done.


  1. One word Wyatt


    It is why I come back to your blog time and time again. Keep the flag of hope flying buddy.

  2. I get what you are saying but ...

    ... there is something else.

    I appreciate that Oprah nudged some folks off the couch and that was enough of a spark to start the journey.

    But something else is there to have you go after the 100s, the mountain runs, etc. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, there was something there already Wyatt that you did not get from a talk show host who "ran" a 5 hour marathon.

    Not that it matters. It is good that you are out there and doing it, regardless of what the catalyst was.


  3. Richard: Thanks for the kind words. Hearing you say that gives me inspiration!

    George: I believe strongly in the tipping point. There was a great book a few years ago entitled "The Tipping Point." I believe many of us have dreams and aspirations but just need that nudge to act on them. When I look back on my life, it now seems obvious I was "born" with the "endurance gene." That doesn't mean I'm talented; it just means I was born with the desire to go long. I actually believe a lot of people out there are fascinated by endurance (how else to explain the wild success of "Born to Run?). I've always had that desire. The events described in this post gave me that nudge--the tipping point--I needed and wanted. All that said, I admit the title of this post is a bit over-the-top, but I came up with it as an attention grabber :).

  4. Thanks for sharing your story Wyatt. What a great message. It's interesting that you once lived in Raleigh as I am a current resident. My journey into Ultra's is starting in the same place. I appreciate your down to earth nature and passion for running. Now kick some butt at Leadville!

  5. Dude! Plaid????? LOL! Seriously, that is QUITE the journey!

  6. William: Except for the summer heat, Raleigh is a great place to live. I used to live at Five Points and we loved Lilly's Pizza. I also loved Mitch's on Hillsborough when I was in grad school.

    Andy: Back when that photo was taken plaid shirts were still semi-OK. :) That was a Tommy Hilfiger shirt that I thought was ultra cool. Today, I would never wear plaid. Or pleated pants for that matter.

  7. Yep...too hot right now. Lilly's is definitely my favorite pizza place in town. Used to got to Mitch's a lot more in undergrad, but enjoy making it over there from time to time. 10 years here for me, so hoping for a move out West after grad school.

  8. Oprah had something to do with many, at one point or another. Great stroy!