At 415 lbs, life for Neal Bendesky wasn’t just hard, it was impossible! A life time of bad eating habits, combined with a high stress job in the world of sports marketing, left Neal in poor health with the clock running out. Then in 2015, Neal got the jolt he needed. He committed to a better life, and went on to lose over 199 lbs and completed 199 days straight in the gym. Now he’s running all over the country and inspiring others as the 199Guy. We had a chance to sit down with Neal and discuss his amazing transformation, how he hopes to inspire others with the “199 Guy” platform, and his new found love for running.
Athlinks: What was the life changing moment that pushed you to get healthy?
Bendesky: Often times, it takes significant emotional events in our lives for us to realize we need to change. My family had been trying to help me for years, but I couldn’t ever see it their way. I didn’t realize what they were trying to do and would get defensive to their advice or comments. On October 12th, 2015, It finally hit me. It was nothing profound or extreme; it came very subtly. I was wearing a red warm-up jacket (5X) and a three-year-old Max, a child in the lobby at an OrangeTheory Fitness, asked me if I was Santa Claus? It was in that moment that everything my family had been trying to do, everything my doctors were saying, hit me – like a brick wall. It was finally time to remove all the baggage I had been carrying around for years.
Athlinks: You started with Orangetheory Fitness, how did you get into running and the race circuit?
Bendesky: In October, 2015, as a regular guy that weighed 415 pounds with one foot in the grave, I decided it was “never too late.” I trusted a process with an exercise routine, lifestyle change and paid supplement program and developed goals which included running. Heck, two years ago, I couldn’t walk around the block! I reached my initial goal of losing 199 pounds and officially became the #199GUYNEVER2LATE. Eight months later, we’ve added 199 straight days in the gym, #199FitBitGoalDays (12,500 daily steps) and running a half marathon to our growing list which started with a local 5K and Pat’s Run.
Athlinks: How many races have you completed so far?
Bendesky: My first race was a local race called the Craft Classic in Tempe, Arizona in October 16, 2016 (less than 90 days after my heart attack). I’ve enjoyed being a part of Pat’s Run, four other 5K races and two half marathons, and I recently completed the Rock ‘n’ Run race in San Diego.
Athlinks: What do you you like best about Athlinks?
Bendesky: You see running is a process, there’s a lot of great people that are doing it! There’s a lot of great training methods out there and there’s a lot of great strategies. What you should eat, how you should train, how you should run a certain type of race, Athlinks offers all that. But at the end of the day, what Athlinks does for me is it gives me one word: HOPE! And that’s what we all want. We want hope to know that there’s a goal at the end of the rainbow, hope to go out, run a race, and do something for yourself and others.
Athlinks: Was there ever a moment when you just wanted to throw your hands up in the air and walk away?
Bendesky: “It isn’t for the moment you are stuck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh. After having one foot in the grave and basically being embarrassed, broken and unable to do the simplest things like tying my shoes, I realized that I was running out of chances. I can honestly say that once I got started and learned and was inspired by others, I became focused on achieving my goals.
Nine days after two stents were implanted, I showed up 199 straight days in the gym and completed my workout. Less than 199 days from my procedure, I ran my first marathon. I started gradually taking running to a higher level. Recently, I received a major thumbs up from my cardiologist following a EKG test, and now the sky is the limit!
Athlinks: What’s a difficulty of losing a large amount of weight that people might not know?
Bendesky: Like many of us, I had been on a diet and failed. I previously had tried to change, but as the 199Guy I transformed. I believe that you can go one of two ways in life: You can be a champion of choice or a victim of circumstance. I decided to be a champion of choice! In my case, I became an athlete for Spooner Physical Therapy here in the Valley during my journey after using their services to deal with hip and knee injuries, which are common with runners. I had limited mobility in my hips and needed to improve my core. Using Spooner’s “HEALTH IN MOTION” mantra, I’ve been able to gradually improve my range of motion and fix my initial linear knee issues. I strongly recommended a motion screening for weekend warriors or for newbies to evaluate minor injuries or for getting started to help avoid major setbacks and better understand one’s capabilities.
Whether an individual wants to lose 20 pounds or more, it starts with your attitude. Attitude is like a flat tire, if you don’t fix it you will not go very far, whether the transformation is for a competitive race or the human race.
Athlinks: What is your proudest moment?
The jacket that I’m wearing in those pictures, it’s actually a USA Olympic team jacket. It was worn by Derek Miles in the Barcelona Olympics, and I bought it at a Make-A-Wish event. Never in my wildest dreams (because I was a 5XL at the time) did I think I’d be able to wear it. It gives me so much pride because it has USA on it!
As an athlete, I haven’t lived my proudest moment with a goal of helping others, but I did cry after completing the Montgomery Half Marathon in under three hours.
Athlinks: Are there any specific races on your bucket list?
Bendesky: The 2018 Big Sur Marathon. Our goal is to continue to progress and build up our 199GUY LIFESTYLE program, eating right with exercise to run a full marathon in 2018. Based on learning ChiRunning and improving my timing goals, within 5 years, I would like to receive an opportunity to return to the east coast and run in the NYC and Boston Marathons. Like my wellness journey, it is not a sprint, it is a marathon!
Athlinks: What was the greatest obstacle to overcome?
Bendesky: Initially, my obstacle was identifying why I should start a wellness journey. Before I could remove the ‘extra’ weight I was carrying, I decided to sit down and actually figure out why I wanted to do it. I needed a plan. I had never asked myself why I wanted to do it or what impact it could have on my life. Sure I had an idea, but it wasn’t until I actually made a list that it made an impact on me.
- Family – Be active in my families life
- Live Longer – See my sons graduate
- Hiding – Be confident in public
- Quality of Life – Free from pain and feeling run down
- Fear of heart attack or stroke – Make it to my 60th birthday
It is very hard for these reasons to show themselves, when you start to lose value on your life or maybe you just don’t really know what your value is. I had to think about my life, my family… My wife and kids, and about the things that I loved and that I had a passion for. It’s a challenge for everyone in this situation, but it is an obstacle to overcome.
Athlinks: What are you plans for the future?
Bendesky: Our business goal is to develop running programs to create child obesity awareness and better nutrition in the elementary schools. We have a chance with kids at that age and we are planning 199 mile runs in designated areas that end with a special kids run and/or awareness assembly. We’ll attempt to educate and answer questions like…How do you take the first step? How can we takeaway our healthy lessons and apply it at home? After abusing my body for over 50 years, we want to develop a team to give back the recent lessons that I’ve learned and help families realize that it is never too late to get started. Running can be a fun part of it.
These letters of L-I-F-E-S-T-Y-L-E will spell the success of your journey. What can become if you:
- E=Energy for life, for your family, for your job
- S=Staying Power
- T=Trust the Process
- Y=You, this journey is about YOU
- L=Love, you do your journey for the people that LOVE you, that you LOVE
- E=Double whammy, 20% is EXERCISE and 80% is EATING RIGHT!
Like this spotlight and want to read about more inspirational Athlinks members? Check out our Q&A with “One Armed Willie”, or interview with cancer survivor and awareness advocate, Randy Kam. Then make sure to cruise on over to the ALL NEW Athlinks.com, and claim your finish time from every finish line you’ve ever crossed!
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity