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How I lost 170 pounds: I was ashamed I couldn't walk to the end of my block

Mike Cullen dropped about 170 pounds through boxing and running.

John Woods/The Globe and Mail

Michael Cullen

35, Winnipeg

POUNDS DROPPED: 170

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My turning point: I was a very active, fit basketball player in my 20s until a knee injury had me sidelined. A doctor told me there was nothing that could be done to repair it: I was devastated. I gained weight quickly, eating fast food, chips and soda while sitting on the couch lamenting my misfortune. At my heaviest I weighed 370 pounds.

Four years later, I was referred to a doctor who fixed my knee – and renewed my life. But the damage I had done to my body in the years between the injury and the surgery had taken its toll. During the initial stages of rehabilitating my leg, I started with walks to the end of my block and back. There was a time that I had to stop to rest as my cardio was so poor: I was wheezing, sweating and in tremendous pain just performing a daily task. I was ashamed – this was my lowest moment, but also when I resolved to get healthy again.

My method: I started slow. On an elliptical machine in a nearby gym, I worked up very gradually in five-minute increments. In about two months, I had dropped 30 pounds. That same gym had a heavy bag hanging in the corner. With brand-new boxing gloves, and nothing but the Rocky movies as a reference point, I started hitting that bag. My knuckles bled, my wrists hurt and I never felt better.

There was nothing more cathartic than taking out my frustrations for all my past transgressions on this helpless bag. For onlookers, however, it was not a pretty sight. Thankfully, Gordon MacFarlane – a boxing enthusiast and trainer – was one of those observers. He offered to show me how to throw a punch properly. After the first session of working the bag and learning some technique, I was hooked. We met regularly at the gym for sessions and I started noticing my hard work was paying off. I also noticed the weight started to come off. I loved the sport so much that I turned my basement into a boxing gym with bags, a sectioned off space for a "ring," a treadmill and a bike.

Gordon and I still meet every Saturday morning at 10 to train; I have participated in boxing meets and sparred with some fantastic fighters in the city. What's more, I've developed a new found confidence in a game that scares most people away.

I also returned to basketball, but my confidence was almost gone. Concerned about re-injuring my knee, I hovered at centre court for most of the games, scared to run, defend and score from the inside. After a season, I decided I needed a new fitness goal – I had to run.

At 280 pounds, I thought my body was ready. Having never run before, (outside of the Canada Fitness Tests in elementary school and the occasional sprint for the bus), I didn't know what to expect. Though it nearly killed me, I successfully completed the Manitoba half-marathon in June and have a time to improve on for next year. It took everything I had to make it to the finish, but rounding the corner of the last stretch and hearing my dad cheering pushed me over the top.

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Today I'm 197 pounds: I run 10 kilometres at least three times a week, play basketball once a week, box and train twice a week and practice yoga twice weekly. I feel better than I ever have and glow with pride every time I put on a loose-fitting large T-shirt. I keep one pair of size 48 jeans around to remind me how good it feels to put on a size 34 fresh out of the dryer without sucking in my gut and testing the physics of the button.

My kryptonite: Without question, it's salt. I'm a huge chip guy and just knowing that there's a bag of something in the pantry drives me nuts. It usually doesn't reside there long. I've tried alternatives but there's really nothing better than a giant bag of ketchup chips.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Tell us how you lost it: tgam.ca/weightloss

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