Patients → Personal Stories and Testimonials

The Athlete Inside Seth Margolies

by Steve Tomsic

There is a new guy out on the West Coast who told me his dirty little secret. Before he had gastric bypass in 2003 he liked to exercise. Of course, he was not running marathons, but he did not mind working out. In fact, he enjoyed it.

In him, I found a unique story of a man who was an athlete trapped in an obese body. He is also a man who is an inspiration for all healthier new bodies in the post-op era of our lives. Lastly, he is a man who understands limits and that exercise can be the dreaded “E word” that makes us hide our true feelings and ultimately enable us to be inactive.

I will admit that even though I have had this surgery I do not like to exercise. However, I have learned through meeting and listening to others that there is a middle ground between exercise and inactivity.

In some circles this West Coast guy is an anomaly. As his feet pounded the L.A. pavement in the last mile of his first full 26-mile marathon, he experienced something exactly opposite of what he expected. His iPod had been preprogrammed so that as he broke into the last mile of this epic athletic feat his musical idol, Bruce Springsteen, would begin to play. As he chugged toward the extraordinary post-op accomplishment, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” charged him. A lifetime of obesity was left at the starting line. Trekking toward the finish line, “Baby, we were born to run” screamed by Bruce’s scabrous vocals brought chills to his neck. After all, there were months of training culminating in a whirlwind of emotions fueled by the lyrics of his idol.

He crossed that finish line with all of this build-up to a momentous occasion—and then nothing. There was no catharsis. There were no tears of joy. There was no floodgate that opened and no former life mourned in the moment of achievement. But that is when this man, now an athlete, humbly realized that he has changed his life, forever.

On March 6, 2005, not even 18 months after his gastric bypass, Seth Margolies woke up, ran the L.A. Marathon, went home, walked his dog and then went out to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Fitness is an essential element to being successful with weight loss surgery. For many of us, being active or exercising can feel like a chore. Others of us find moving about and exercising easier than ever. Seth is one of those post-ops whose life has completely changed after surgery. He has embraced his new body. He runs and cycles with a new crowd. He is a humbly aware that he is different from many other post-ops. He understands he is an athlete and not everyone is.

He began his WLS (weight loss surgery) journey in his twenties when he began steadily gaining weight. Like many of us, he had tried nearly everything. He had health problems that scared him into realizing his weight was likely going to kill him if his depression did not get to him first. His highest weight was 406 pounds, all carried on a 5’ 6” frame. In 18 months, however, he reduced his waist size from a 58 to a 32 and his shirt when from a 3XL to a medium. His blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure are perfect. He has gone from 406 to 195 pounds.

When I first met Seth at the ObesityHelp West Coast conference in October 2004, he was 13 months post-op and already a flourishing born-again athlete. The day the conference came to a close, Seth saddled up for a 100-mile bike ride through the hills of Los Angeles.

Seth is more than an athlete. Beneath the cycling slicks there is an actor, a comedian, a husband and a good friend. His humor is sharp, yet honest. Although he has had trouble keeping an agent now that he is no longer the fat funny man, he is back on the stage. No one knows what to do with him now that he blends in with many of the other Hollywood men. Yet, he is in a play where he is the leading man, not the colorful sidekick. He has transformed from funny fat guy to the one that gets to kiss the girl.

Seth met his obesity demon head on. Like many post-ops that I have met, he talks about the denial that he needed WLS to gain control over his weight. He talks about viewing his obesity as an addiction in recovery. But the most engaging comment was when he referred to his new life as a partnership between him and his new stomach. Seth knows that this surgery is not the be all, end all. He understands that there will always be work to do.

“I don’t like to run.” That statement coming from a man who just trained 18 weeks and finished a marathon naturally prompted me to ask, “Why do it?” The answer is throughout Seth’s bio-article on his surgeon’s website and it was a constant underpinning of our conversation. Seth is committed to challenges. When he was told that he could not lose weight on his own and be successful, he committed to Weight Watchers. He dropped 80 pounds only to find unresolved health problems that lead to weight gain and loss of momentum. Now in a new body, Seth is honest with himself. While he loved cycling, running was a different story. “I am not a gifted runner. I have the body of a running back, not a runner.” While he may not enjoy running, he has the discipline required of an athlete.

Seth is like an old soul with sage-like wisdom when it comes to his philosophies on activity. He admits, “I was always active; now I am much more efficient.” It is all about having fun. That is what Seth said when I asked him about his new life. He believes that commitment, balance and finding something he loves to do is what motivates him to maintain his fitness and health.

He is committed to exercising and his new life style. He says that in order to find balance, you must love yourself enough to say “when.” He believes that we can become over enthusiastic about our success and lose sight of reality. “You need to find balance. I wanted to run the other day but I knew my body needed a rest.” He states that if your body does not want to do it, you should not do it. It is not worth hurting yourself. Lastly, he believes that we must be happy. “Find what makes you happiest. A friend of mine realized swing dancing is what makes her happy. Now she’s a swing dancer getting her exercise having fun.”

Seth has absorbed himself in fitness felicity. “I’m a real show on the Stairmaster.” It is possible that some go to the gym just to see Seth working out. He has been known to put on his iPod, step on the Stairmaster and step out. He dances, he jumps; he is completely into it. After 300 plus floors of steps—over 80 minutes and totaling about seven up-hill miles—Seth’s work out is complete. He runs, cycles and lifts weights four times a week. He is getting ready to improve his swimming skills to prepare for a triathlon.

He proposed a three-part goal on January 1, 2005 that could be considered an amazing feat—even in the athletic community. First, he would complete a century ride (a 100-mile bike ride). Next, he would run a full 26-mile marathon. Then he would top it all off with a triathlon (a healthy swim followed by a cycling tour and capped off with a lengthy run). As of now, the first two have been completed and Seth is training for a July triathlon. It is likely he will achieve his goal in only seven months.

There is also a humanitarian side to this West Coast athlete. He wants to help others learn fitness. I saw this desire in L.A. In the lobby at the conference, he pulled me aside so he did not embarrass me and showed me three simple activities to help me tone my sagging arm skin.

He is realistic about WLS and fitness. He understands what it means to do what you can and not push yourself too far or too much. He is in the process of creating a video for new post-ops. He wants to help people to learn fitness from the perspective of getting active, not necessarily “exercising.” He wants people to know how to find their limits and appreciate what they can do each day. He wants people to find what makes them happy and to use that as motivation for having a healthy life after surgery.

Seth spent a lot of time rediscovering what makes him happy. It came down to performing in front of people to make them laugh and riding a bike. In his new healthy life Seth is pursuing both passionately.

There are about nine bikes in his household. It is hard to say which is his favorite, since they are all for different things. He has a road bike, a mountain bike, a city touring bike and a retro classic—a Western Flyer with a brown leather seat. It is orange and black, the color of his team, the San Francisco Giants. Like any owner of vintage automobiles who only take their rides out for Sunday strolls, this bike is only for trips down to the park.

Just 18 months ago Seth was 406 pounds. On March 6, 2005 he finished 814 out of 2000 in his age group in his first marathon. Overall he was in the top 25 percent. While he may not love running, he fantasizes about qualifying for the Boston Marathon so that he can run the event in a full New York Yankees uniform. We laugh together and he reminds me that he is not kidding. I laugh again because I know that he is not kidding.

Seth believes that he can be fit well into his seventies. He was gaining weight at about 25 pounds a year over the last 10 years prior to surgery. Now he has picked up a few pounds of lean muscle mass, but his size has not changed and he is over the mental barrier of gaining that weight. He eats well and indulges a little but is responsible. He knows there are trapdoors on the stage of post-op life. He understands that if he does not look for the glowing stage tape in the darkened theatre that he may lose his way and wind up falling into old habits.

Like an addict leaving behind his old drinking buddies, Seth has found new friends. He has made good friends with fellow WLS community support members and he has befriended a new group of athletic friends. On a recent outing at dinner he looked around the table at all of the meals that were ordered. Knowing he was the only one who had been obese, Seth was surprised to see that everyone ordered similar meals; salads with extra sides of protein. These trained athletes ate like a post-op patient and it pleased Seth to know he was with his kind.

There is more to post-op life than fitness, yet it is an essential component to the formula for long-term success. Everyone has their interests and everyone deserves to pursue their happiness—including you. When you peel back the cloak of obesity you will find your Western Flyer bike and your chance to ride it to the park!

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