New perspective

| November 17, 2008

November Health Hero Richard Cooper

Ten years ago, Richard Cooper of Victoria, Texas, woke up one morning and decided he was tired of being overweight. At the time, he weighed 242 pounds and had just bumped up to a size 42 waist. He had no idea how to lose weight or start an exercise program. The research he found said he needed to cut calories and start moving. Good advice, but Cooper had been sedentary for a long time.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he says, “so I laced up my shoes and went for a jog.” The “jog” lasted the length of three houses. “I figured I was out of shape but had no idea how bad off I was,” Cooper says. Slowly, he added more distance to his morning jogs. At the same time, he joined forces with his wife to start eating healthier foods. His diet of Pop Tarts and buffet dinners had to go. “We made ourselves eat a small, nutritious breakfast, a light lunch and a healthy dinner,” he says. “It required changing just about everything we’d done before.”

After about a year, Cooper was down to 175 pounds, and he’s maintained that level ever since. Once he lost the bulk of his weight, he decided it was time to pursue a dream he’d always had: driving a big rig. He went to truck-driving school and signed on eight years ago with Hills Brothers. He’s been with them ever since.

His exercise routine is a vigorous one, and he credits his success at sticking with it to an inner discipline learned from a military school education. The hard work has paid off, and he recently bought a pair of size 36 pants. Now divorced, the 44-year-old driver says he’s evolved so much in his quest for a healthier lifestyle that he actually looks forward to waking up early for a workout. “It’s not just that I want to look good, but I want to continue feeling good,” he says.

Personal: Richard Cooper, age 44, single

Children: Brenna, 13, and Erica, 18

Handle: Spanky or Unca Spanky

What is your fitness regime? Wake up at 5 a.m. Do 50 crunches, 25 leg lifts and then run for 25 minutes followed by stretching, cool down and working out with weights. Finish with 150 push-ups.

How did you change your eating habits? I switched from soda to water, from Pop Tarts to apples, fried chicken to broiled or grilled chicken. The biggest change was adding breakfast to my day. I also chew sugar-free gum all day.

What tip would you give a trucker who wants to start a diet? I’d tell him to keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat all day long. If you are like I was, you’ll be shocked at what you think you eat and what you really do eat. That gives you a baseline to start figuring out where to cut calories/fat/sodium. Get as much information as you can. There are all kinds of diets to choose from. I like to listen to Pam Whitfield on satellite radio. I got the food diary idea from her.

How do you manage to eat healthily at truckstops? I’ve made it my mission to talk to the managers at the truckstop restaurants. I’ve called all the major chains and asked them to consider stocking the menu with healthier food. It used to be hard to find fruit, but now you can pick up a few bananas or cut-up veggies at many of the chains. I just keep researching, asking questions, getting up to speed on the best food choices.

What’s your next goal? My one and only goal is to not regain the weight I lost.

Do you have a favorite motto? Well, I think about how I used to look and feel and I think, “I’ll never look like that again!”

Do you have a fitness tip you’d like to share? Wear a bright-colored T-shirt if you plan to walk or run around a truckstop. We are such a rare sight that truckers are not looking for us when they are parking their trucks!
–Carolyn Magner

Nominate Health Heroes
Do you know any truckers who have worked hard to become more healthy? Maybe they’ve quit smoking, started an exercise program, controlled their sleep apnea or changed their eating habits. E-mail or send to Truckers News Fit for the Road, 3200 Rice Mine Rd. NE, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406.

Ask The Experts
Health Question of the Month:

My husband’s doctor said he could be at risk for deep vein thrombosis. What can he do to minimize his chances of getting this?
- Sarah from San Jose

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