Bill Bowden never thought he’d be a triathlete. The 52-year-old ticket broker from Burbank, CA, had been athletic growing up, running track and playing baseball, but in adulthood he settled into a pretty sedentary life. Even if he was playing softball three or four times a week, he slowly got heavier.
Much of that weight gain came from his diet. He remembers sitting down to watch television with a box of candy bars at his side, dipping in to eat a couple as he watched. He drank a lot of soda; even as he switched to diet soda, he’d drink four of them a day. Fast food was his lunch, and he’d hit up the donut shop every day.
At his heaviest, he weighed 290 pounds, on a 5’7” frame. That year, 2019, his wife passed away, after a half-decade of complicated health issues. “I’d spent a lot of time taking care of my wife,” he says. With that part of his life now gone, he felt a mix of grief and freedom—and guilt at feeling that way. “I didn’t recognize myself,” he says, “didn’t know where to go from there.” He was adrift in a dark place and didn’t know if he wanted to go on. He remembers a time of not caring whether he woke up the next day.
When a woman coaxed him into going to the gym, it was like a hand reached out to him. Three days a week, he’d be on the elliptical and the stationary bike; 15 minutes on the bike grew to 25 minutes, and his 25 situps grew to 75. He gave up soda and the donut shop. He started eating salad, thanks to a recipe he found that he actually liked.
And he got his first bike and joined a local cycling group. His first ride was nine miles, with a crew that went on to do 50 miles—an unfathomable distance for him. As he got more confident, he was doing 50, 75, 100 miles a week.
Whether he knew it or not, he was training for a triathlon. It wasn’t until June that he decided to enter this year’s 2XU Malibu Triathlon—which meant taking swimming lessons. Thanks to the disruption of the pandemic, he was able to work out twice a day. He’s been losing weight since he started, and is now down to 162 pounds. He’s looking to do this triathlon—again, his first ever—at a little over two hours. Then it’s on to an Olympic triathlon four weeks later, and a half-Ironman in December.
“I didn’t really know why I was doing it, when I got started in this,” he says. “I thought I was doing it for the same old reasons that I did everything else: because of somebody else. I was doing it to fit in. When I first started to realize that this was really about me and finding my own place in this world, it all changed for me.” Even after that, and with the help of a lot of therapy, it took him a long time to find himself and where he belonged. If he can give a message to others, he says it boils down to this: “Get help. Take help. Accept help.”
Finding his own willingness to accept help brought him to where he is today, looking forward to his first triathlon. But he knows it won’t be his last. “There’s so much more to life than what I’ve accomplished,” he says. “And I’m not done yet.”
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