Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else? I’m not talking simply relating to a story or feeling empathy. I mean actually, physically experiencing the daily temptations and struggles of an individual. For JJ Peterson, a Utah-based fitness trainer who has spent over half his life living in optimal health, that opportunity knocked on his door in the form of a 32 week documentary that would drastically change his and his soon-to-be co-star’s life.
The scenario: The documentary (Network and air date to be announced soon!) follows JJ Peterson and Ray Stewart, a 5’7”, almost 400 lb. male who hasn’t worked out in over 15 years. Ray is teamed up with one of Utah’s top fitness trainers (JJ) to help guide him through a 16-week weight loss transformation. Sounds like your quintessential reality TV weight loss scenario, right?
The Catch: Before the two start training, JJ must spend the first 16 weeks of the show foregoing any form of exercise, ditching his healthy diet for donuts and milkshakes and add 61 lbs. to his washboard abs and competition-level physique. (See JJ’s before and after!) The weight and physical change was an obvious expectation. What JJ did not expect was to actually experience the same emotional wear and tear Ray has felt daily for every pound gained, workout missed or diet failed. By day 1 of taping, the two could not wait to hit the gym and start their weight loss journey together with a kick-off week of boot camp and your’s truly- PFC Fitness Camp.
The Latest: JJ and Ray are in week six of their transformation with a total of 116 lbs. (78 lbs. for Ray and 38 lbs. for JJ) gone for good and a Spartan Race checked off the bucket list! With so much progress already, we thought we’d check in to hear how the journey has been thus far through Ray’s perspective!
“Coming home from PFC was exciting! I was ready to use the education I learned throughout the week and begin to develop the habits that would become the rest of my life. We left on a Sunday and that Monday got right back to it with a grueling workout. When I woke up Tuesday, I rolled out of bed to shooting pain in my knee. The doctor told me it was likely my meniscus and that it might just be inflamed or there could be a tear but I needed to rest that week. I was really mad and down on myself for getting injured! To make things worse, the Spartan Race was the next week. I’d been looking forward to the Spartan for a couple months! I was so mad. In search of a solution to get me back in the gym faster, I went to PFC’s website and read an article by Wendy (seriously how great is Wendy??!!!!) about working out injured and it helped a ton. I also sought advice from JJ and Brian, my RevUp coach and together we worked out a solution around my knee for a few days. After a weekend of low-impact exercise and a lot of icing, I felt much stronger and I was determined to get to the Spartan! JJ put me through a workout inspired by the Spartan and I didn’t hold back. If fact, it was the first time I threw up after a workout. I apologized for puking on JJ’s shoes, (the brand new ones he’d bought at The Roadrunner the week before!) but so happy I made it through the workout without any trouble from my knee. Spartan, here we come!
There are lessons I’ve learned at every corner when trying to be my best self. This was Spartan week and I was feeling more and more like David facing Goliath. I knew I had wasted a couple days that I should have worked out harder than I did. If I’m going to hit my goals I can’t allow myself to rationalize away intense fat-burning workouts for token feel-good cardio sessions. It’s not like I sat down on the couch for a week and ate nachos all day, but I hadn’t taken advantage of the week leading up to the race like I could have and I think it’s important to acknowledge that failure. I remember what Dr. Mantell said though—that a fixed mindset had killed more dreams than failure ever could, so failure isn’t necessarily the enemy. I didn’t beat myself up over taking it easy, but it’s a lesson that I think is important to learn and keep myself honest in my own head. Only I know if I’m truly pushing towards my goals or if I’m losing focus and allowing myself to coast.
I digress, SPARTAN! AAAAHH!!! It was a Spartan Super—a 9 miles with 26 obstacles up and down the mountains surrounding Soldier Hollow in Utah (where the Olympic cross country skiing and biathlons were held) and, I’ve heard, one of the most difficult courses that Spartan puts together in the country! To even get into the starting area we had to climb over a 5-foot wall, which I couldn’t have scaled without JJ’s help! The race dumps you in some mud pits and makes you trudge up the mountain. At mile 3 I was feeling completely spent and doubting that I was physically able to finish the race at all. Every step of the way JJ was my hero! He never stopped encouraging me. He recruited help to get me over an obstacle when his strength alone wasn’t enough. He kept my head in the game and suddenly it was mile 6 and I knew I’d finish. There aren’t words to describe the joy I felt standing atop the final ladder-type obstacle looking down at the finish line! I knew I was being timed but the clock hadn’t mattered for a while and I was going to enjoy the emotional bliss of knowing I finished what I had doubted to be possible! That being said, I’d still be trying to hop over that 5 foot wall at the starting gate if it wasn’t for JJ. He was my hero over and over that day, and a shining example many times over since the first day he knocked on my door!
The week leading up to the race (the week I had been taking it easy) I weighed in and hadn’t lost a thing. Now I’m not a huge fan of weighing in every day. One of the lessons of PFC and the DEXA scan is that weight is just one factor of many that play into becoming healthier. I knew my body composition was changing and that was just as important. That being said, I still have a lot of weight to lose and no lbs. lost was not what I was looking for. But that was just one week and my journey is much longer than a measly week! As of a few days ago I’m 73lbs. down and am about 1/2 way to where I want to be. I feel so much more able than I have in years. I’m working on pushing myself as hard as JJ or the PFC staff would push me. I feel so much better after a workout when I know I’ve given my all! My family and some coworkers have reached out to me asking for advice and it feels great to act as a mentor in a small measure. There have been setbacks but I’m making progress. In transforming my life it’s become obvious that the path to my goals isn’t a straight line… more like a tangled fish net at times. Luckily I have great support from rockstars like my wife and JJ! Like I said earlier there are lessons at every corner when trying to be my best self. It just feels really good knowing I’m on my way.”