By Valerie Wood
Special to the La Vernia News
Heavy breathing, anticipation of sweat and pain, a long winding course filled with obstacles ahead. Shelby John, a 2011 La Vernia High School graduate, stepped up to the starting line of one of the most difficult obstacle races of 2010. That year, he began his weight-loss journey. In 2015, he looked down at the starting line of a new obstacle race, one he never thought he would be running: the Savage Race.
Shelby had many trials and tribulations on his course to his first Savage Race. This is his story.
When Shelby stood at the beginning of his weight-loss effort, he looked back on how he “couldn’t do what everyone else did.” Then, as he approached the first Savage obstacle, he had to jump over it. Tall, wooden, and staring at him as he prepared to leap, he remembered how in P.E. “box jumps were [his] nightmare,” how he never did feel comfortable in front of people, and how he “stressed every time [he] had a fitness test.”
He made it over the tall wooden obstacles and overcame what used to be. Running harder to the next obstacle, breath heavy and cold in the November air, he came to a halt. Shelby said it was cold and raining, making the course very muddy, and even harder to run.
Looking down at wooden blocks resting at his feet in the mud, he lifted them, one wooden block on each shoulder, and carried them as he did his weight for so many years. With each weighted step, he flashed back on how shopping for clothes “was extremely difficult, because nothing was big enough.” The outskirt crowd he hung out with in high school flashed through his mind as he took another heavy step; at the end of the obstacle, he finally threw down the blocks, and the memories, triumphantly.
Here he was, looking forward to a new life, a life where all that could be left behind him. And he could conquer more obstacles ahead. It wasn’t going to be easy. It definitely was not a sprint. But he started to run again.
With a six-mile obstacle race, there is lots of time to think, and Shelby contemplated where he started when he first began losing weight. The beginning was slow; he began incorporating small doses of exercise into his weeks by playing basketball. He started eating differently, and very little, with just a can of pineapple for dinner each night. Not surprisingly, the weight dropped.
William Squires, professor of exercise physiology at Texas Lutheran University who specialized in cardiovascular health at Baylor College of Medicine, explained that the way Shelby initially lost weight wasn’t healthy. By only eating a can of pineapple, he limited his daily intake of nutrients our bodies need. Squires suggests Shelby could have started by “reducing the amount of food on your plate” -- eating balanced meals but smaller quantities. Also, eat slowly -- “It takes about 30 minutes for the stomach to fill;” when you eat fast, you don’t get the signal you are full.
Shelby, with the method he used, went from 260 pounds to 220 in 2011. He also hit his first obstacle: the wall. He was stuck, not educated on how to lose weight the right way, at 220 pounds.
In fall 2011, he signed up for an exercise course at his community college. In the class he learned his BMI (body mass index), recorded what he ate and how much he ran, and learned how to work out the right way. With that, the weight kept coming off. Pound by pound, he conquered the wall, and every obstacle after that -- from the kinds of food he ate, to switching to healthier choices, making time for working out and making it a part of his schedule, and finding a goal to work toward.
What was that goal? That is where his second starting line appeared.
Shelby ran his first 5K in February 2015. After that, he was hooked, and the Savage Race became his next obstacle. In fall 2015, he conquered his first obstacle course race. These are grueling; facing each obstacle, mile after mile, is not only a physical challenge, but a mental one.
“When you first start running the race,” Shelby said, “the adrenaline pushes you, but by the end your body is totally worn out, so you have to have pure strong will to push through it.”
Through his weight-loss experience, Shelby’s determination to never quit, never give up had been tested and strengthened. This gave him the mental toughness to conquer the Savage Race.
At that starting line, Shelby said he was “nervous, unknowing of what I faced ahead.” At the end, however, “I felt pure triumph and pride,” he said, eyes lighting with pride. “I conquered something.”
Shelby has gone on to run a Spartan Race and a Tough Mudder, two other challenging races.
He’s also got another finish line in his sights. He’ll graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in biology, with a minor in chemistry, from Texas A&M-San Antonio.
As he talked about the races he has completed since he began his weight-loss journey, his mother’s eyes welled up. Choked with emotion, she stared at her son, overcome by his accomplishments and his story, even though she lived it every day with him.
Shelby’s weight-loss journey and obstacle races have brought him to some new knowledge.
“I work out, lifting weights and such,” he said. “I run, and I eat healthy by controlling my portion sizes and eating foods that benefit my body as a whole. Staying healthy and fit should be fun, not dreaded.”
He runs in the La Vernia City Park, and plays football and basketball with friends to stay active and have fun.
Shelby, a partner at the La Vernia H-E-B, is training for his second Spartan Race, scheduled for May. It takes effort, and an undying drive to succeed.
After all, it takes time. It’s not a sprint.
Valerie Wood is a Texas Lutheran University marketing major. She’s minoring in public relations and social entrepreneurship.
The Savage Race is one of many obstacle course races trending in the United States in the last four years. Numbers show that 4.9 million people participated in these races; that number is expected to rise in coming years, as reported by “Obstacle Race World: The State of the Mud Run Business.” According to Running USA, in the last five years, the number of finishers of obstacle races has increased by almost 40-fold.
The thrill-seeking millennial generation, a big part of the race demographics, has discovered a way to stay fit and fill its adrenaline desire.
There are 12 Savage Race events set for 2017, including one in Houston in October. Each has various local hazards and conditions, from swamps to woods and significant elevation changes. Some award cash prizes. Visit savagerace.com for more.