Wesley Wilson was the last kid picked in gym class.
He was out of breath when unloading his rig, powered through the drivetrain of his 2008 Western Star.
He was a pre-diabetic with a family history of heart disease.
Now, the Mercer-leased owner-operator is also an Ironman.
Wilson made a lifestyle change beginning seven years ago. He began training and eating healthy in order to compete in Ironman Lake Placid in Lake Placid, N.Y., his hometown. The Ironman is a triathlon held in various locations across the globe and entails a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
“I live, eat and breathe Ironman,” Wilson says, and he has a tattoo of the Lake Placid event’s logo to prove it.
Before his lifestyle change, Wilson avoided the triathlon. He thought Ironman was about jocks, the people who didn’t pick him for teams in gym class. His family convinced him to attend the race as a spectator after a physical revealed he was pre-diabetic and had a high chance of developing heart disease. “The outlook wasn’t good,” he says. Wilson’s father passed away at 42, and his mother passed away at 62, both from complications of heart disease.
When he saw 2,888 athletes jump into Lake Placid, his attitude toward the race changed. “My heart jumped three beats. It instantly changed my life,” he says. He thinks that everyone should attend an Ironman once in their life to witness this moment.
Before seeing the Ironman, Wilson’s niece, Daci Leonard, had encouraged him to enter the Boilermaker 5K in Utica, N.Y. He had planned on quitting training after he finished the 5K. “He was super stressed and nervous,” Daci says.
Wilson thus knew he couldn’t immediately start triathlons when his mind was made up to get healthy. He made a two- to three-year plan to prepare for the race, including an exercise regimen and dietary changes. Wilson would run at truck stops, but he found it difficult to fit in his biking. He removed the passenger seat from his cab and put a spin bike in its place, making a personal mini-gym. He cranks Bob Seger as he trains inside his truck. “People get a kick out of it when they walk by.”
One of Wilson’s biggest challenges was preparing for the very swim that made him want to be an Ironman. He didn’t know how to swim, but with help from books, his wife (who also didn’t know how to swim), and some time in a pool, he learned.
Another obstacle was eating right on the road. He recommends Lean Cuisine’s frozen, microwavable meals that are low in calories. When he didn’t have time to stop and prepare a meal in the truck, he ate salads and yogurt and fruit parfaits from fast food restaurants, he says. “I had to re-educate my whole train of thought on how to eat.” Education, he adds, is key when making a lifestyle change — sometimes what you think is healthy isn’t actually healthy.
“He should be the poster child” for the McDonald’s healthy menu, says Wilson’s sister, Tina Leonard. She says Wilson on occasion has even brought a McDonald’s salad or fruit parfait to a family gathering for a low-cal option. “He realized that no one could take care of him but him.”
When Wilson was ready to take on the Ironman, he considered completing the race in Wisconsin. His wife, however, convinced him to stay in his hometown of Lake Placid. The triathlon is now a journey through memories, as he passes his parents’ graves, family picnic spots and his grandparents’ house. The race ends at his high school track, where he once couldn’t complete a single lap.
“He totally changed his whole attitude on life,” Tina says. “He smiles the whole time [he’s running].”
Four Ironmans later, Wilson, who weighed approximately 300 lbs., is about 100 lbs. lighter. He has made an impact on his own family to get healthy. He and his niece now look back at pictures from their 5K and Wilson’s physical transformation is still shocking, Daci says. And his sister and brother-in-law have started losing weight thanks to his success.
“He’s my inspiration,” says Tina. “He’s an inspiration for everyone. If Wes can do it, we can do it.”