July Health Hero Gary Kujak
Gary Kujak, a trucker from Michigan, never gave much thought to his overall health. He’s been a truck driver since 1979 and has slowly acquired poor health habits like overeating and smoking. His infrequent exercise and few trips to the doctor saw a dramatic upsurge after a work-related physical on December 2, 1994, where his physician urged him to consider quitting cigarettes and losing weight.
“So, I did. I smoked my last cigarette that same day in preparation for my 1995 New Year’s resolution to lose weight and stop smoking,” Kujak says. The following days were rough. “I drank lots of water and chewed sugarless gum while I tried to stay busy and not think about the cravings.” By day three, amazing things began to happen to his body. “I felt a tingling sensation in my arms and legs,” he says. “Like the blood was starting to flow after all those years.” His restless-leg syndrome disappeared and he swears he felt sections of his lungs open up. He felt better and had more energy and a more positive outlook as his cravings for nicotine subsided.
In the meantime, a sense of wanting to get healthier set in, and on December 28, 1994, he joined a local gym. Still, he wasn’t making the progress he thought he should and actually added pounds instead of losing them. “I went from 162 pounds up to 204,” he says. “It was very depressing.”
Gaining weight after quitting smoking is not uncommon and at a subsequent visit to his doctor he began a regimen of exercise with the target of 180 pounds. He increased his distance on the treadmill from two to five miles and went to the gym six days a week. “I now had another New Year’s resolution,” he says, “and dedicated myself to achieving it.” He finally hit his goal and has worked hard to maintain a steady weight. “It’s an ongoing process, not one that you can ever take for granted,” he says.
This year, he says he was inspired by the Truckers News Health Heroes series and was determined to lose the extra pounds that had piled on again. “On Jan. 1, 2008, I set the goal to get back to 180 pounds,” he says. “Once again, I changed my diet and amped up the exercise routine.” He cut out junk food and began each day with a 5-mile power walk on the treadmill. He went from walking 5 miles in 65 minutes to running the same distance in a new personal best: 44 minutes, 39 seconds. When he stepped on the scale six weeks later, he was shocked to see he’d lost 14 pounds and was only three shy of his ideal weight.
“I lost those pounds and hope to never find them again,” says the trucker who signs his emails with the directive “Have a great, healthy, active day.”
Personal: A company driver for Ceva since 1994, Gary Kujak drives to Lebanon, Ohio, to pick up auto parts, round trip: 455 miles daily.
What exercise tips would you give to truckers? Consider joining a gym and then go! I like to run on the treadmill but I started off only walking short distances. Gradually, I increased the power-walking speeds to 4 and 4.5 miles per hour. I also use hand weights and leg weights along with exercise straps and hand springs.
How has your health improved? I feel better both physically and mentally. I’ve got more energy and a better outlook.
How did you change your diet? I now keep fruit and vegetables in the cab and eat those instead of sugary, high-calorie snacks. I also drink lots of water and choose smaller portions of food.
What’s your favorite motto? I always like to say, “Making a positive difference in the world begins with you – please step forward.” Another one is: “Building bridges creates endless opportunities.”
What would you tell a trucker who wants to get healthy? Start today. Set a goal and then just begin. If you can get rid of a bad health habit like smoking, do that at the same time. Use your free time to begin a walking program.