Jeff O'Hagan is a lucky man. A couple weeks ago, he may not have realized that. I think he does now. Jeff has had a rough time of it lately. He's still young at 42, but he has diabetes and weighs 330 pounds. He has been unemployed for more than a year, and watching the stack of rejection letters grow drained his self-confidence. He sought solace in food and television, feeling helpless to stop his weight gain and guilty for not being able to support his family. His 9-year-old son hasn't been eating well or getting enough exercise, either. His 15-year-old stepson has gone to the other extreme, working out fanatically. Jeff figures the boy is afraid of looking like him. The whole thing sunk Jeff in a deep funk. He couldn't find his way out. That's how he was when I first heard about him. On May 16, his wife, Debbie O'Hagan, e-mailed me after reading a Ken 2.0 story in The Oklahoman. Her message was moving and heartbreaking, filled with compassion and concern. "I'm so scared for Jeff's life,” Debbie wrote. "He is my second husband and the love of my life and best friend. I've been reading your articles to him hoping it would inspire him, which I think it has. But he can't make himself do anything. ... I have started a gym membership but he's embarrassed to go, feeling like the others are saying 'look at the fat man' and laughing.” She asked if I could motivate Jeff. She signed her message "Desperate in Yukon.” How could I ignore that? I had to help.
A chance to give backImmediately, my mind turned to Joseph Coleman and Neill Harmer. If they couldn't get Jeff moving, nobody could. You may remember Joseph. He's the Midwest City man who lost 195 pounds in about a year, transforming himself from a 415-pound eating machine into a healthy 220-pounder who ran a half marathon this year. Joseph is a positive, inspiring guy who glows with energy. Neill and his wife Amanda, both of Bethany, were contestants on "The Biggest Loser.” Although they didn't win, they combined to drop 152 pounds from the start of the show until its finale. Neill loves to compete in triathlons and is smart and funny, well schooled in the ways of losing weight. They agreed to help Jeff. Over the next week or two, I worked the phones on Jeff's behalf. I knew he'd need more than Joseph, Neill and I could provide, and trying to arrange more help for him had the added benefit of making me smile a whole lot more. Since I started my fitness journey, I've met so many nice, supportive people — more of them than I ever expected. Some have offered me expert help and advice, while others have posted uplifting messages on my blog or followed me on Twitter or Facebook. Every day, I've heard from kind people who are rooting me on, and I've learned that support like that is priceless and life-changing. Now Debbie had given me a chance to repay some of that generosity. It was my turn to give back. I was having a blast.
Getting back on trackJeff and Debbie came to see me at The Oklahoman on May 27. They didn't know what to expect. And they didn't expect what they got. Debbie came in first. I found her waiting for me in the lobby. She's short and outgoing with curly blonde hair, lively eyes and a bright smile. She was a bundle of nervous energy, and she'd warned me in advance that she is a hugger. Jeff, who'd been parking their car, came in a few moments later. He's a big guy, of course, burly and strong, and he wore a polo shirt and a baseball cap. He's more reserved than his wife, but he offered a firm handshake, despite seeming to be a bit uncomfortable. I couldn't blame him. He knew he was going to meet me. He didn't know I'd basically staged an intervention. We gathered around a patio table — me, Jeff, Debbie, Neill and Joseph. With us were several other people: Olympic athlete Joe Jacobi; personal trainers Robyn Pendleton and Tracy Woodie; and Sherry Andrusiak of Oklahoma City Riversport. The next hour was fantastic. Joseph started things off by talking about his own weight loss and how much better his life has been since he's become more active. Neill encouraged Jeff to turn off the television and start moving. Joe, who won a gold medal in canoeing in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, discussed setting internal goals and carving out time each day to pursue personal excellence. Above all, they stressed to Jeff how lucky he is and how much he has to live for. Then Robyn and Tracy offered to help Jeff get back in shape. They'll coach him, develop a workout plan for him and even accompany him to the gym so he won't feel so alone there. Sherry told the O'Hagans about water activities available to them and their children on the Oklahoma River and Lake Overholser — and set them up with free passes to give those activities a try. She also offered to let them exercise in the gorgeous, high-tech gym at the Chesapeake Boathouse. Jeff and Debbie were a little shell-shocked, I think, but they were also excited. And we still had a couple more surprises for them. My dietitian, Karen Funderburg, is going to teach the O'Hagans about good nutrition. She offered up her services at a greatly reduced rate. "We're definitely going to do this,” Jeff said. "I've wanted to work with a dietitian for a long time now.” Of course, even at lower rates, he'll need a way to pay for Funderburg's services. He should be able to do that soon, because James Farris Associates, a local placement firm with a national reputation, is going to provide Jeff with career counseling and help him find a job — free of charge.
'A new respect'We all stuck around for awhile after that, talking and hugging and sharing contact information. Neill, Joseph and I are going to work out with Jeff periodically. I'm going bicycle shopping with him when he gets back from a family vacation. Jeff and Debbie e-mailed me on Tuesday. They're doing great. Jeff has been eating better, choosing lighter options and smaller portions. They've gone out to restaurants a couple times, including Interurban in Yukon, where Jeff shocked his family by ordering lemon chicken with steamed vegetables instead of a steak or burger. "I won't lie,” Jeff wrote. "There are times when I feel hungry, but you know, when I came away from Interurban I didn't feel miserable and bloated. ... I felt satisfied. I like that feeling better.” Debbie lost four pounds in less than a week. "Jeff is someone I've never seen in the 7 years I've known him,” she wrote. "He cares about Jeff; he cares about his body. He's taking charge of what his son eats, too, and he's spending less time in front of the television. ... I have a new respect for Jeff because I see him respecting himself.” Jeff has a tough road ahead of him. I know, because I'm walking that road myself. He's off to a great start, though, and I'm confident he can make it. If you know Jeff and Debbie, drop them a line or give them a call. Let them know you're supporting them. If you haven't met them yet but see them out and about, introduce yourself and offer some encouragement. This is how we can make this a better, healthier world — one day at a time, one person at a time, all of us doing what we can to help each other. Trust me: It feels good.
Staff Writer Ken Raymond began a yearlong weight loss and fitness journey on April
1. Here are his stats: Age: 41 Height: About 6 feet 1 inch Beginning weight: 307 pounds Current weight: 286 pounds