A Moore man lost 208 pounds recently by participating in ABC’s “Extreme Weight Loss.” The episode featuring his journey to health aired Aug. 19.
Having found himself in the path of nature’s fury was a huge wake-up call for 38-year-old Kenny O’Neal, who at the time was morbidly obese.
Since appearing on the show and following the one-year weight-loss plan, O’Neal went from weighing 410 pounds to 202. His wife jokes that she has a new boyfriend. His neighbors say it seems weird seeing this new guy around the neighborhood.
And that’s the truth. O’Neal is a new guy, inside and out.
When the May 20 tornado destroyed much of Moore last year, O’Neal was one of many parents who signed their children out of schools in the tornado’s path; his kids went to Briarwood Elementary. Safe in their storm shelter, the family survived the tornado relatively unscathed.
O’Neal’s mother’s home was destroyed, but, thankfully, she was away on vacation at the time.
After the disaster, many of O’Neal’s friends and neighbors needed help, but he felt helpless. At 410 pounds, there wasn’t much he could do, though helping others is a huge priority in O’Neal’s life.
“I’m wanting to help — the spirit’s there, but I’m out of breath in five minutes,” O’Neal recalled. “I couldn’t do what I wanted to. I couldn’t help the people that I wanted to help, because, seriously, I was 410 pounds. What is a 410-pound man really able to do, you know?”
That tornado was a moment of reckoning for O’Neal. He had to do something about the extra hundreds of pounds dragging down his life and rendering him helpless.
He wrote a letter he’d been wanting to write for some time — to Chris Powell, the celebrity trainer and life coach who stars in “Extreme Weight Loss.”
Within two weeks of the tornado, O’Neal was in Colorado for the show’s three-month boot camp.
Facing the wreckage
At home, just after he left, a second round of tornadoes came through town, and O’Neal’s family was terrified. He felt terrible leaving his wife, Kristin, 36, and three children, Aby, 12; Avery, 7, and Tyler, 6. Tyler had lost a classmate in the May 20 tornado and was still having nightmares about that.
But the family supported O’Neal fully. Kristin O’Neal is a nurse and a champion of nutrition and fitness. She told him he needed to stay in Colorado and learn everything he possibly could, because she would rather have him gone for three months and come back rather than lose him to death from his health problems.
So he stayed and devoted every ounce of his energy to learning and fighting his fight.
O’Neal had once been fit. But in what he calls a “regrettable decision,” he quit the Marine Corps at 19, and from there, his weight escalated.
Shortly after arriving at weight-loss boot camp, another pitfall challenged O’Neal’s resolve. A good friend from the Marines, who had served two tours in Iraq, died from his addiction: alcohol.
The two had discussed their addictions — O’Neal’s to food and inactivity and his friend’s to alcohol. His friend’s death gave O’Neal more drive to solve his addiction problem.
“Addiction is serious. We all battle some sort of addiction. This fight’s worth fighting,” O’Neal said.
Year of milestones
After the first three months of boot camp, at the quarterly weigh-in, O’Neal had lost 100 pounds, 10 pounds shy of his goal. That first milestone was major.
“I was able to run a 5k,” he said. “I didn’t ever think I would run again, but in 90 days I was doing everything that I wanted to do.”
The rest of the one-year journey to health was also life-changing for O’Neal, though not as intensely physically demanding as some may think. The Marine Corps was far more difficult, he said.
“It’s about daily commitment, consistency, having those commitments and integrity within yourself,” he said. “It’s a change of pattern; it’s believing in something more than just the scale.”
Today, 208 pounds lighter, O’Neal looks like a model, feels younger than ever and has all the energy he needs to do what he really wants to do most: help others fight the battle he fought.
Journey’s just begun
O’Neal always felt he had a higher purpose than the sales career he’d been developing. Now he knows what it was.
After finishing the show, he opened a gym, Addictions OKC, in Moore, where he said he hopes people who are like he once was — without hope, frightened and lacking the self-confidence to get off the couch — can feel comfortable.
“What I’ve learned is I want to be able to pay it forward. That’s my new mantra,” he said. Instead of being addicted to food and inactivity, his new addiction is paying his good fortune forward, he said.
“If you’re overweight, feeling helpless, lost and just like giving up, I’m the person you need to talk to. Not everyone’s going to be lucky enough that Chris Powell is going to take them, but I want people to know that there is someone here locally has been there, has weighed 410 pounds, who knows what that feels like. I want to help you.”Editor's note: Addictions OKC can be contacted by phone at (405) 673-3410.