Dirk van Wyngaarden with his bike in La Jara, N.M., during a 40-mile ride.
Nine years ago, Dirk van Wyngaarden’s life was at its lowest point. The Appleby company driver from Brantford, Ontario, Canada, was 43 years old and weighed 340 pounds when his doctor told him his blood pressure (160/93) was severely high. Not only that, he was at high risk for stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer and injuries resulting from stressed joints. In fact, an earlier fall from the cab resulted in a shattered right ankle, and he was struggling through the slow-healing, painful injury. “I realized I had to change my life. There was no other choice,” van Wyngaarden says.
His quest to lose weight and adopt a healthy fitness routine is a remarkable story of courage and perseverance. It began with baby steps. “I started with a short walk around the truck and began ordering less food at truckstops,” he says. His early efforts left him exhausted and drenched in sweat, battling doubt and constant hunger. Slowly, through exercise and calorie reduction, the pounds began to come off. He lost more than 100 pounds in the end, a loss he’s maintained for six years.
This summer, he plans to ride his bike across the country in a charity ride for the Christian Reformed Church’s Sea to Sea tour (www.seatosea.org). He’s cycling from Seattle to Jersey City, about 3,600 miles. It will take him nine weeks.
“I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life,” he says.
How long have you been driving?
Since I was 18 years old, for 34 years.
What made you decide to lose weight and start biking?
A lot of health issues related to being so overweight: a broken ankle, and then my doc’s warning that if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, I’d lose my CDL. My father died at 60 of diabetes and that’s one thing I’ve worried about.
What was the biggest challenge in your weight-loss quest?
I was cold, tired and hungry all the time. I kept doubting my ability to do it and didn’t start exercising until I lost 50 pounds. I missed all the comfort food I was used to.
What kept you going during the tough times?
Once I had lost a substantial amount of weight, I couldn’t stand the thought of gaining it back and looking like a failure. I felt like people were watching me, looking at me for inspiration that it could be done.
How has your overall health improved?
It’s amazing! My blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol is down, gastrointestinal issues cleared up, energy is better and my blood sugar is down.
What tips would you give someone who wants to do what you did?
Go for a walk every day. You think you don’t have time, but go for a walk down the service road or walk around the truckstop. Instead of sitting down for a meal, get a sandwich to eat in the cab and take a walk with the extra time. Cut out sodas, and pack fruits and veggies to snack on. I still drink lots of coffee. Don’t deny yourself, but do cut back on the things you love.
What’s your next goal?
Ride my bike 3,600 miles on the cross-country tour. I’d also eventually like to lose 30 pounds, get down to 200 pounds.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can accomplish!
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