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 back
Immediately, 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 track
Jeff 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.