David Brown huffed and puffed his way to the finish line at last year’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
But he wasn’t running one of the races.
He was walking from the parking lot.
“How sickening,” Brown thought that day last April. “Here I am to support my wife in this race ... but here I am struggling just to walk up the hill.”
He weighed over 400 pounds. He’d been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He’d started down the path to better health. But as he struggled to get to the marathon finish line, he realized that something had to change.
And change, it has.
This year, Brown will be running the half marathon at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. It will put an exclamation mark on a transformative year. The Edmond resident has changed his body and his mind. The same goes for his future. And he did it all on national television.
But it might never have happened if not for last year’s marathon, where wife, Melissa, was running as part of a marathon relay.
“This is by all means my full-circle moment,” Brown said. “I’m going out there to run my own race for the first time ever. How appropriate is it that it’s at the race where it all started?”
His journey to the finish line was much longer than 13.1 miles.
David Brown and Andrea Terrill were still working on their college degrees when they got married. He was at Oklahoma City University. She was at Central Oklahoma. They were young. They were short on funds.
Didn’t matter to them.
They were in love.
But in 1992 before they celebrated their first anniversary, Andrea had a seizure. A brain cancer diagnosis would soon follow, along with chemo and drugs.
Andrea beat back the cancer. It went into remission, but nearly a decade later, it returned. Brain cancer. Stage 4.
David sat by Andrea’s bedside the January day in 2002 that she took her last breath, and right before she died, she made him promise that he would take care of their girls. She wouldn’t be there for Jordan and MacKenzie. He had to be.
Of course, he agreed. But in the years after Andrea’s death, David continued the weight gain that began after her first diagnosis. An extra 50 pounds became an extra 100 became an extra 200.
Even after marrying Melissa and having another daughter Trinity, Brown refused to do anything about his weight gain. He told himself that losing weight would take his attention off his family.
“I thought that was the most selfish thing I could do — put myself first,” he said.
Then in the fall of 2012, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
“The doctor basically told me, ‘If you don’t lose weight, your story is going to be too short,’” Brown said.
He found himself at a crossroads that millions of Americans stand at every year — lose weight and get healthy or stay overweight and deal with the possibility of heart disease, stroke and early death.
Brown, who was nearly 450 pounds at his heaviest, decided that he had to lose weight. Over the next six months, he lost 40 pounds. But he was worried; there had been times in the past that he had lost lots of weight, done well for several months, then fallen back into old habits and regained everything.
Something had to change.
“I have to do something so different than I’ve ever done to get past where I failed before,” he resolved.
Not long after making that resolution, he was huffing and puffing toward the finish line at the Memorial Marathon. And not long after that, “The Biggest Loser” came to town.
David Brown stood in line at Oklahoma City’s opening casting call for NBC’s popular extreme weight loss show and thought he had no chance of making it. There were nearly a thousand people there. There were slim odds that he’d make a second interview, much less the national cut of 15 people who make the show.
But that was OK.
“In my mind, (going to the casting call) was at least something different than I had done before,” he said. “It really kind of reinforced this mindset that I was going to do whatever it took to lose the weight, whether it was ‘Biggest Loser’ or not.”
After a callback and second interview, a trip to Los Angeles for another round of interviews and lots of eliminations along the way, Brown was selected for the show.
His starting weight: 409 pounds.
What happened over the next eight months played out on national TV. The sweat. The tears. The triumphs. The struggles.
Brown said it was every bit as tough as it looked.
But he didn’t want to hold anything back. Not the memories of Andrea’s cancer. Not the struggles of raising Jordan and MacKenzie by himself for several years. He went all in; he didn’t want to miss out on any part of the opportunity.
He made it all the way to the finals. In the end, he dropped 222 pounds, lost more than 50 percent of his body weight and was the runner-up.
He’s half the man he used to be.
“I feel better than I did in high school,” Brown said.
He has energy like never before. Recently when he got home from a business trip in Portland, Ore. — he still works for an Edmond roofing company but is also doing motivational speaking under his new company, 1Stronger.com — one of the girls asked if they could have a daddy-daughter date. Brown didn’t need to rest after his flight or veg on the couch to recover from his trip. Instead, they were out the door and on their way to Goodwill.
They picked out clothes for each other, then modeled the crazy outfits for each other. They were laughing. Other customers were laughing.
Brown had to miss some big moments in his daughters’ lives while he was on “The Biggest Loser.” Jordan’s move to college at Central Oklahoma. MacKenzie’s first football game on the pom squad at Edmond Memorial. Trinity’s first day of kindergarten.
But Brown and his family endured tough times then for good times in the future.
“God willing,” he said, “I’ll be here for all those big moments coming up.”
He plans on it.
David Brown isn’t going back to where he was before. There’s no more gaining back the weight. There’s no more XXXXXL-sized shirts.
“I have a very fresh perspective on the pain it took to get from 409 to where I am today,” he said, his eyebrow raised. “There’s a very healthy level of pain association that I don’t want to have to relive again.
“I am very aware of staying in shape.”
He came to a realization during “The Biggest Loser” — he needs to be challenged — and knowing that, he devised a plan that would establish a lifestyle of training. Every 90 days, he’s going to take on a new challenge. A longer race. A tougher event.
The half marathon at the Memorial Marathon is his first challenge. He’s never run 13.1 miles, and it’s his goal to not only finish but also run every step of the way.
Once he does that, he plans to enjoy the rest of Sunday and wear his medal proudly around his neck. But then, he’s going to hang his medal on the wall and sign up for his next challenge.
He expects marathons and triathlons in his future.
But first, David Brown is going back to where it all started. He isn’t going to walk to the finish line at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. He is going to cross it.
“I will be huffing and puffing again,” he said, smiling, “but it will be because I’m running.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.