It is said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For one local man, stepping into a gym in 2006 was the first step on a personal journey of self-improvement that has seen him lose 70 pounds, start his own business as a personal trainer, and run a half-marathon.
Brian Smith, 41, has battled with his weight his whole life and, as he points out, a job at a fast food restaurant when he was in Grade 11 didn’t do him any favours. But it was while working as security/concierge at a downtown condo that he realized his weight gain was contributing to a deepening depression.
“I was frustrated,” he said. “I was always tired, the job was stressful, I was never happy with myself.”
In 2006, Smith knew he had to do something about both his size and the resulting sadness.
“I finally decided to start doing something about myself, to start liking me more,” said Smith. “It was the catalyst for me to start going to the gym.”
Although Smith had always been involved in sports to some degree – playing hockey, and umpiring with East Toronto Baseball – the gym experience wasn’t easy at first. Smith had to work through feelings of intimidation and judgment and the sense that he didn’t belong. But he persevered and began a weight training program that today involves working out at the gym four times a week.
As the weight dropped, Smith’s self-confidence rose. He was inspired to try running, beginning with 5K races. He ran three of them and his success with those inspired him to greater challenges. In July he was part of a team of four who competed in the Spartan Run, a 7Km obstacle course, held in Oro. Smith loved every muddy minute of it.
“There were all sorts (of obstacles)…climbing over a rope wall, crawling through a drainage pipe, jumping over a fire pit, climbing up 15 feet of hay, crawling through four feet of mud with barbed wire overhead.”
Smith’s next challenge was the Scotiabank Waterfront Half-Marathon, in October. He spent four months training, but the race was ultimately more than just a physical challenge for him. It was also an emotional one. His wife had recently gone through a cancer scare and Smith was now motivated to fund raise on her behalf.
“The main reason I wanted to do the run was to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society,” he said. “I decided I had to up my game and raise as much money as I could.”
His efforts garnered over $800 for the organization. He is not sure he wants to run another long-distance race, however.
“I might do a 5K here and there, but not the half-marathons,” he said. “That was hard. When I crossed the (finish) line I was crying. It was such a feeling of euphoria. It was amazing.”
Smith’s journey led him back to the classroom this year to earn a personal training certificate and start a business as a Professional Fitness Consultant.
“I’m specializing in helping those who are intimidated by the gym, so I go to their homes,” he said. “They can work out in their own homes and not worry about people gawking at them or judging them, which is a lot of the problem I had when I first started. I want to help those people who want to keep going but they feel like the gym is not the place for them. I love them all. They’re working so hard.”
Smith’s journey – one step at a time – is taking him into uncharted territory but he isn’t about to turn back. He has made a multitude of new friends along the way who have been instrumental in keeping him on track.
“The hardest part is to begin,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have the support system to begin. People gravitate to like, so friends who are down will go to down people. They’ll go out and they’ll eat and eat and eat. You have to try and break away from that and find people that support you and want you to feel better about yourself, and just be there when you need it.
“I don’t want to go back to where I was.”