The rebirth of Scott Cutshall began Thanksgiving Day 2005, a bowl of vegetable soup for breakfast kicking off a new life where nothing would be the same. Cutshall, living in Jersey City at the time, weighed 501 pounds. He was having breakfast. And then he was getting ready to go on a bike ride.
He rode 1.9 miles that day, rolling through neighborhoods, biking on the street, stopping to rest four or five times to sit on a curb. Head down. Panting. Hot even in November.
The ride of less than two miles took Cutshall three hours to complete. But the wheels were turning. His body was in motion. The journey had begun.
"Everything changed from that day forward," Cutshall said last week in south Minneapolis, where he and his family now live.
Back up to 2004. Cutshall, a freelance jazz drummer, husband and father, 38 years old, was not sure if he'd live to see 40. He wore size XXXXXXXXXXL pants and could not tie his own shoes. He could walk only nine steps at a time. Breathing was sometimes difficult. A doctor said he would be dead in six months without stomach-reduction surgery and heavy medication.
Further, Cutshall [left in 2004] had just a 50 percent chance of surviving an operation, the doctor guessed, his heart likely to quit under the anesthesia and stress.
Flip a coin. Tails you live. Heads you're dead.
"I hated those odds," he said.
So he ignored the doctor. He didn't flip the coin. He flipped his life instead.
He changed everything. He started eating vegetable soup for breakfast. Hummus on pita was lunch. Dinner was salad and pasta. Every day.
And he got a bike, a reinforced custom model built in Minneapolis. It was the only viable type of exercise for someone his size, he said. He started riding every night, at first just around the neighborhood, where he rode after dark. "I was embarrassed to go out," he said.
He started a blog, "Large Fella on a Bike," to document the journey. Cutshall's goal was singular and stubborn: to lose hundreds of pounds of weight by changing his lifestyle and pedaling a bike.
Do or die, he thought.
Plot spoiler: Cutshall did it. In the first four months, riding lots and eating little, 50 pounds fell off. Two months later, another 20 pounds. He could use the scale in the bathroom again.
In May 2006 the dial spun to 413 pounds. More than 75 pounds of girth had gone away. "I was just shrinking," he said.
In 2004 Cutshall went outdoors only four times, sequestered in a brownstone apartment, out of touch with the world. Now he was riding more than 100 miles a week, wind on his face, world whizzing by.
Every day was 20 or 30 miles of pedaling. Plus one more mile after he got home. "I get home, I turn around and I ride one more mile," he said. "This is to prove I can do it."
He made plans to get off the East Coast, to leave the old life behind. The chrysalis was cracking. By fall 2006—thousands of miles now put on the pedals—Cutshall weighed in at 350 pounds. A new person was emerging from a shell.
A bike was saving his life, he said. And the person who built that bike, Bob Brown of Bob Brown Cycles LLC, lived in Minneapolis. "Other frame builders turned me down, even laughed at me," Cutshall said. "But Bob embraced the project."
Knowing no one other than Brown, the Cutshalls [above in 2006]—Scott, his wife, Amy, and 8-year-old Chloe—moved halfway across the country last June.