Richard Kalasky hasn't eaten fast food in more than a year: He also avoids alcohol, soda, cigarettes and sugar. But it hasn't always been that way.
As a paramedic in Atlanta, Georgia, fast food used to be a staple in his diet. That is, until he moved from low-land Atlanta to a small mountain town in Colorado that sits at 10,000 feet. Weighing 325 pounds, the 32-year old found it difficult to get around. "It was hard to do anything, much less live at that altitude," says Kalasky.
Symptoms and conditions of his weight were exacerbated at altitude. In addition to high blood pressure, he suffered from sleep apnea, which led to heart problems and chest pain.
"I thought I was having a stroke at one point," he says. "They wanted me to wear oxygen...that's a lot to do at 32 years old."
The doctor told him he couldn't live at altitude and that he had to move back to sea level. "That was the slap in the face that got my butt in gear."
Kalasky set out to lose 100 pounds but ended up riding the weight loss/gain roller coaster, so he turned to bariatric surgery to give him the kick start he needed. He lost 70 pounds and was determined keep the momentum.
"I had to change everything I ever did in my life," he says. The first step: cooking his own meals. "Everything for me is high protein, low fat and very little carbs," he says.
With a weight loss goal of 100 pounds, he incorporated fitness into his health regimen and decided to train for a marathon.
Just more than a year after surgery, he not only hit his weight loss goal, he completed the Denver Rock 'n' Roll marathon in a time of 4:29. Three weeks after that he ran the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll for his 35th birthday, and on Valentine's Day the following year he broke four hours in New Orleans, clocking 3:56.
There was no stopping him. Running gave way to swimming and biking, and in July (140 pounds lighter), he completed the Boulder Peak Olympic Tri—a huge leap from barely being able to breathe at altitude just a few years prior.
Although he went on to complete a half Ironman, he says crossing the finish line of that Olympic tri was "my crowning moment: I accomplished something I never thought I'd be able to accomplish."
Paying it Forward
It's not just about personal success for Kalasky. He wants to share what he's learned and help educate people who struggle like he did, so he counsels people looking to make a change. "It's not just about changing your eating habits," he says. "You have to incorporate fitness or it really doesn't work."
He adds that it's not easy. "Some people have been 500 pounds their whole life and their joints can't take it or they're too afraid to exercise," he says.
But Kalasky is proof that, if you're determined, it is possible to turn your life around.
What's his trick for staying motivated? "Setting goals," he says. "It's nice to say 'I've done this and now I'm going on to the next levels.'"
And his next levels continue to grow with century rides and ultrarunning on the horizon. "My goal is to do an [endurance] event in every state," he says. "I've done five so far."Start your fitness journey: Sign up for a race.