By Jessica Leigh Brown
A heavy fog of depression hovered over Ryan Carman as he sat in his apartment one day in March 2011.
At 34, Ryan had struggled with obesity for almost as long as he could remember. “I weighed 335 pounds and had thyroid problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure,” he says. Caught in a cycle of eating junk food and surviving with minimal exercise, Ryan felt too overwhelmed by his unhealthy lifestyle to think about making major changes.
During a week of vacation from work, he decided to make a choice—a little choice—that would change his life. “I’d been sitting around my apartment, doing nothing, for two days,” he said. “I realized I had a YMCA membership that I’d signed up for with good intentions but never really used, so I thought I’d walk down there and play some basketball.”
As he trekked the city blocks from his apartment to the YMCA building in downtown Knoxville, Ryan caught sight of a dollar bill lying on the sidewalk. “No one was around, so I picked it up,” he said. He’d forgotten his wallet, so he stuffed the bill in his pocket and walked on.
When he reached the Y, the staff member at the front desk said Ryan needed a membership card to get in. “He told me they’d be able to replace my lost card—for $1.”
Because he had a dollar in his pocket, Ryan got a new card and stayed to exercise that day. “That was a turning point for me—and I really believe the dollar bill on the sidewalk was a gift from God.”
Ryan’s initial visit to the YMCA quickly evolved into a regular routine. “For the first couple of months, I came to work out twice a week,” Ryan explains. He started out playing basketball, but soon broadened his routine to include lifting weights, riding the stationary bicycle, and using the elliptical machine.
A few months later, Ryan started to make changes to his diet. Why did he wait so long? “You have to pick a milestone that’s realistic,” he explains. “That’s why I started exercising before I tried to change my diet—because I think any new behavior takes about three months to become a habit.”
Ryan had already benefited from supportive YMCA staff members, who cheered him on as he continued to challenge himself in workouts. When it came to diet, though, Ryan says he primarily consulted his doctor—and his common sense. “Obviously, it’s better to snack on fruits and vegetables instead of potato chips. There were a lot of foods in my diet that needed to be replaced by healthier options.”
The next few years held a series of challenges, setbacks, and victories for Ryan. By 2013, he weighed less than 200 pounds and no longer suffered from diabetes or high blood pressure. “My body fat has decreased from 36% to 10%,” he says. In the past three years, Ryan has participated in a number of YMCA classes, including Zumba, yoga, a workout bootcamp, an abs class, and water aerobics. He’s also successfully completed a half-marathon.
What’s his secret to success? “I had so many people cheering me on—including my family, my church, and the YMCA staff.” From the beginning of his fitness journey, Ryan recognizes his faith to be a motivating factor. “I realized that my unhealthy lifestyle was holding me back from serving God,” he said. “That made me really sad.”
But rather than wallowing in defeat, Ryan chose to believe that his life could change—with God’s help. “Every time I failed to accomplish what I wanted, I realized I had to get back up and keep working at it. I believed that I was going to lose the weight eventually. The journey to health isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. Perseverance is a big part of it.”
Every day, God sent the words of encouragement Ryan needed to keep going. “Friends at church would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you can do it!’” And the staff at the YMCA played a vital supportive role. “They offered tips, let me sit in on classes, and came up to me to ask how everything was going. I consider them friends and family now.”
Ryan will soon be able to spend even more time with his support system at the Knoxville Y—he’s been hired for a part-time job there. “I can’t wait to encourage people who come in, and tell them my story.”
Ryan’s perspective gives all of us a good example of how personal faith in God transforms physical fitness. He didn’t just make healthier choices, broaden his exercise routine and overcome challenges to lose weight and feel better. His faith fuels his fitness as a significant part of how he can now routinely encourage people. He knows that to Be Life to others begins by simply telling them his story. You can do that too. Keep it simple, make it that personal and be the life of Christ to those around you.