So, you read my blog, you check out the Spurling website, you see the words “we change lives” and maybe you think “Yeah right, what do you know about changing lives? You’re clearly young and look to be in shape. How could you possibly understand how hard it would be to change my life?”
Well, I kind of do understand. It hasn't always been the way you might think...
Believe it or not, there was a time where I’d never set foot in a gym and I hated exercise.
I was too busy shoving cosmic brownies down my throat.
If you’ve met me or seen my picture on our website or Facebook page, you can see I’m a big guy. Well, I was always a big guy – I weighed nearly 11 pounds at birth – in a big family. I had genetics working against me from the start.
I was born into a very unhealthy family. A loving family but an unhealthy one.
Of course I didn't know how unhealthy our lives were. I just did what they did, which was sit around a lot, eat lots of pasta dishes (we’re part Italian) and watch a lot of TV. I don't remember any physical activity, no weekend hikes, no sledding in the winter, nothing that broke a sweat.
It’s ok though, I can't be mad about it. In hindsight, it taught me many valuable lessons about what not to do and how not to live.
I went into middle school tipping the scales at almost 300lbs. Yes, you read that right, middle school. I was the "big kid" that everybody wanted to be friends with, just in case they needed a sidekick in a recess fight, but not really anything outside of that. I was bullied, made fun of, and I didn’t feel good about myself. So much for middle school fun, right?
Going into high school, not much changed. I was feeling depressed, never had a social life, and was living a life that I had no clue what to do with. I went through my first two years of high school weighing on the other side of 350lbs; I believe my heaviest was 378lbs.
I don't blame anyone for my weight. I certainly don’t blame my parents. They raised me the best way they knew how. My mom showed love by making sure there was food (and a lot of it) on the table and in the house. No one ever said “just one, you’ve had plenty”.
I don't even blame myself, because back then, I didn’t know any different. It’s what I saw around me, what I thought was “normal”. Wake up, eat, go to school, eat, come home, eat, watch TV, eat, go to bed and repeat. Life revolved around eating and no activity.
At 14, I was able to get a work permit and a job. Having my hard-working parents as role models, they instilled in me a very strong New England work ethic. Today, good or bad, I'll outwork anybody. In fact, it's something I'm trying to balance better today, telling myself that “no Doug, you don't need to work 18 hours a day, every day.”
My family was also not wealthy so there was much to be gained by getting a job. But what kind of job could I get? Other kids were all going to work at our local grocery store but I knew I wanted something different.
I decided to write a letter to the local hospital to see if they had any openings. I was expecting one of two things to happen:
1. No response at all.
2. They'd stick me in the kitchen or laundry to do a bunch of not-so-fun work.
You know how you can look back at life and there are a handful of moments where now, it’s so clear that if the road hadn’t taken you a certain direction, you have no idea where you’d be today?
This was one of those moments.
I received an invitation to interview to be a "Physical Therapist Aide Trainee." I didn't know what a Physical Therapist was or how I’d be aiding them, but man, to a 14 year old, that job title sounded sweet!
I got the job, and began working there during my freshman year in high school. I would go to school from 7:00 am – 2:00 pm and then take the bus to the hospital to work 2:30 – 7:00 pm.
I wish I’d stayed in touch with that group of people I worked with, as I’d love to be able to tell them now, 13 years later, how much they changed my life.
After I was trained, I worked along therapists, helping people walk for the first time in a long time, seeing people return to functionality from traumatic life-altering events, and gaining invaluable life experience. In fact, for the first time, the fact I was a big guy had some advantages. I could help stabilize patients, help the PT’s transfer patients, etc.
The experiences I gained in that job began to create the spark of the passion I have today, to change people’s lives. I just didn’t know it yet.
Despite the fact I was bearing witness to other people’s life-changing events, none of it resonated yet as a reason to change myself. I was only 14 after all.
I went to a vocational high school, one of those schools where you can focus on a trade vs. academics and college prep. Most of the guys chose automotive, carpentry, electrical, etc. I chose health occupations.
Life changer moment # 2...
Because of the course work, I was able to train and become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at age 16. After receiving that certification, I left my job at the hospital and took a job in a nursing home.
Looking back at it, I'm 16, I had no clue. I was still just living in the moment.
But that job changed my life. From sophomore year until the day I left for college, I worked in a nursing home taking care of Alzheimer's residents. I would go to school from 7:00 am – 2:00 pm and then drive over to the nursing home and work second shift, 3:00 – 11:00 pm, bathing, dressing and feeding someone’s wife, husband, mother, father, sister, or brother.
I had no idea at the time the effect this experience was having on me but today I can confidently say it was one of the top three things that changed my life.
But still, I was pushing 400lbs. How could I be working in the health field and be so unhealthy myself?
Remember my physical therapy job? At the time I was leaving to go be a CNA, they had hired a new therapist, a woman who’d just graduated from this school up in Maine nobody heard of. The University of New England. For some reason that stuck with me...
Senior year. Graduation was looming. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I went back in my head to that physical therapy job, and thought to myself "I'd love to do that."
So I applied to one school, the University of New England. Luckily, I got in, and was accepted into their pre-physical therapy program.
That spark I’d started as a PT Aide was growing into a real flame of passion for changing people’s lives, but I realized if I was going to do anything with it, I needed to change my own life first. I woke up one morning and realized how could I possibly be preaching healthy habits to my patients when there I stood, the big fat kid? What a hypocrite I was.
The summer after graduation, I got serious about making that change.
Knowing what I know today, I would kill my old self for the way I went about it. I would never recommend this to anyone, but somehow I managed to make it work.
The entire summer, I lived off tuna fish sandwiches and bananas. That's it. A banana for breakfast, a tuna sandwich for lunch, and a tuna sandwich for dinner.
I don't know how I did it. But it worked...
Going from eating 5000+ calories a day, to maybe 1000, the weight came off fast.
When college started in the fall, I was less than 300 pounds, for the first time since I was 12. I lost 75 pounds in 3 months.
Again, absolutely not the way I recommend anyone accomplish this but I was an 18 year old kid with no guidance of what the right way was.
Banana and tuna sandwiches continued, I kept losing weight and I moved to Maine and started attending UNE.
Another life changer...
I met my mentor and good friend, Heath.
Heath was a part of the Exercise Science program. I don't know why, but he took me under his wing, and showed me all the great opportunities that exist in Exercise Science.
I quickly developed a passion for exercise. Heath taught me everything he could about the field and it really fueled my fire for changing people’s lives.
I switched majors in order to continue under his mentorship.
Now, instead of just eating tuna and bananas, I gained some solid nutritional knowledge and learned to combine that with my newfound love of exercise.
I noticed the profound effect exercise had on me not just physically, but mentally. By my sophomore year at UNE, I was 260lbs, which was about 115 lbs less than my heaviest weight.
All of the sudden, I started making friends, gaining confidence, hanging out with girls, you know, typical college stuff. And how crazy - it took exercise before any of this happened.
Through all of this, the feeling of having a calling continued to grow stronger. In addition to wanting to change other people’s lives, I was about to change my own.
My original plan of a career as a PT was sound but if you’ve ever gone to physical therapy, it’s pretty clear than many people being treated are there because they have to be, insurance makes them, or they can’t go back to work until they’ve gone, and so forth. Often not in the best mood or mindset to hear advice about making life changes, I wasn’t sure it was the right long term career decision.
The nursing home experience totally changed my life. I got exposed to more by the time I was 18 than many people have seen in their entire life.
But I knew I couldn't work with that population every day for the rest of my life. I give extreme credit to those (including my fiancée) who choose to work in the medical field, especially those who are really "in the trenches" involved in meeting patients’ most basic needs such as bathing, feeding, and dressing. It is draining.
When Heath told me one day that there were actually jobs where I could do what I dreamed of - change lives – every single day for the rest of my life - I just about fell over.
Call it what you want: personal training, strength and conditioning, I call it changing lives for a living.
I had changed my life.
I had lost over 100lbs.
I was on cloud 9...
I was all of age 20 and I thought I had it all.
On a random Saturday in October, I drove home from UNE to have dinner with my parents. I walked into their house and a chill just came across my shoulders. I knew something was up.
I sat down at the dining room table and my mom started crying. After fighting back the tears, she spit out...
"I have cancer."
The next six months were hell. I was trying to wrap up my degree at UNE, head down to Massachusetts to see her in the hospital, and do everything I could to help her, my dad and my younger brother.
Talk about another life changing point in life...
On June 14, 2010, in a hospice house, I held my mom’s hand and watched her take her last breath.
At the age of 52, she had died from stage four lung cancer.
I was 21 years old, and thought I had the world by the balls.
Boy was I wrong...
As devastating as losing my mom was, it furthered my passion for changing people’s lives.
I began to exercise even more. I knew too many people that used food as their stress reliever, and they reverted back to their old habits quickly. I used the gym as my stress reliever.
Ironically, I was in the best shape of my life six months after my mom died. I had my own life experience that proved that through healthy eating, good exercise, and some accountability, people could change their lives.
So, cut to today…
At 26, I'm not here to tell you I've experienced everything. I still have years to live, and hundreds of lessons to learn. However, I am quite confident in saying I've been through some dramatic changes, negative and positive, and I live my life with one goal, to change the lives of as many people as possible.
All of the experiences I’ve shared gave life to my singular passion and the underlying philosophy for Spurling Fitess, the gym I opened shortly after graduating from UNE.
Spurling exists for one reason, and for one reason only, to change lives.
We want to help as many people as possible change their lives. Big dramatic changes or little, “hey I can see, wait I can touch my toes” changes. It’s all good!
While I kind of went it alone, I don’t want that for you. It's too hard. You need and deserve support, accountability, and motivation. No one is ever left on their own under our roof.
It's not going to be easy, but my team and I are going to be with you every step of the way. We won't let you down.
It's going to involve all three components, fitness, nutrition, and mental coaching.
But the end result is well worth it…life changing, I promise.
As for me, life is good. I still miss my mom every day, but I know she's proud. I'm still down about 115lbs from my heaviest. I exercise because I want to, not because I have to. I’ve created an awesome life here in my adopted home state of Maine. I have a beautiful home, a fiancée I'll be marrying in a few months, a team of employees that have given everything to help grow Spurling, and hundreds of clients I call friends, who put their trust in us every day to change their lives.