‘I’m a winner at weight loss and on the football field’
Losing over 70lbs benefited Ross Hebden’s family life as well as his game, and now this fit and healthy dad is in a league of his own.*
On the defensive
At over 300lbs, I wasn’t enjoying football like I used to. I wasn’t fit enough to run around with the ball and the only position available to me was offensive linesman, out in what we call ‘the trenches’. I’d always been big and strong enough to hold my own in the scrimmage, but right now I was the largest I’d ever been and the batterings felt like they were getting worse. I’d come off the field breathless, aching and feeling as though I could no longer give my all for my team. Something was going to have to change if I wanted to get back to my sporting best.
I’d been big as a teen, but it was after meeting my wife, Amanda, that I really began to get heavier. She knocked me off my feet harder than any opposing lineman! We moved in together and enjoyed nothing more than nights in together with a takeout, or a big plate of creamy pasta with garlic bread. Both our waistlines were getting larger, but we were too content to pay much notice.
Spurred into action
Our first daughter, Ailla, was born in May 2012 and I started to worry that my increasing weight might stop me being the active dad I wanted to be. I began working out with a PT and putting in long hours at the gym, at the same time cutting out most of my favorite foods. I did lose some weight, but man, was it hard! Not surprisingly, I soon fell back into my old eating habits and the pounds crept back on.
In April 2017, I entered a local half marathon. I hadn’t really prepared for it, and with race day fast approaching I decided to kick off my training with a six-mile run. By the next morning, one of my knees was in agony and I had to pull out of the race. I’d completely underestimated the pressure that my weight was putting on my joints.
I was slumped on the couch, feeling miserable, when I looked up to see Ailla, then four, and our two-year-old son, Rewan, fussing over our newborn daughter, Elowen. “They deserve an energetic dad,” I said to Amanda. “I need to tackle this properly and get healthy for good.”
One of my football teammates had joined Slimming World the previous season and lost a significant amount of weight on the Food Optimizing eating plan, so when Amanda suggested we should do the same, I immediately said yes.
I had a lot more to lose than she did, and I was amazed at how quickly the weight started to come off. Amanda and I shared the cooking, enjoying our home-cooked Slimming World spaghetti dinners much more than the high-fat versions we’d been eating before. And we were always there for each other when we had rocky weeks. If I gained a pound or two, she’d pick me up with words of encouragement, reminding me how well I’d done, and I’d do the same for her. As the pounds came off, my confidence grew, along with my abilities on the field, and I’d lost about 40lbs when I made a big sporting decision: no more standing around in ‘the trenches’ for me, I wanted to run with the ball!
New team, new chance
I switched to a team closer to home, and went along to my first training session in January 2018. My new coach looked me up and down, then said: “I remember you playing against us last season. You’ve lost a lot of weight—you can’t play as a lineman any more. How about trying out as a running back?” It felt so good to get that recognition from a coach, and to have a chance to test how fit I’d really become since starting to lose weight.
By June, I’d done it—I’d reached my target weight of 189lbs, and I couldn’t remember a time in my adult life when I’d felt fitter and healthier. That same week was the biggest fixture of my football season—the match against my old team. Some of them barely recognized me, especially in my new position of running back. It was a great time to play my best game of the season, gaining more yards than in any other match I’d played, and we won by a record score!
The moment I felt most like a winner, though, was on a recent trip to the park. With Amanda, Rewan and Elowen looking on, I took the training wheels off Ailla’s bicycle and was firmly holding the saddle as she took her first wobbly attempt up the path. It took a couple of tries before she was ready for me to let go and I stood for a second as she pedaled furiously away. Putting on a sprint, I caught up and kept pace with my excited little girl. If that moment is imprinted on her mind as it is on mine, I’m glad she’ll remember that Dad was right alongside her. No matter what I achieve on the football field, nothing can outshine that.
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* Your weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and the amount you have to lose.