Hello, world! My name is Jared Gould. I was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a congenital heart defect where the left side of the heart is extremely underdeveloped. From the time I was born until the age of four, I had four open heart surgeries. Of course, I was too young to recall that experience now, and having heart surgeries erased from my memory might be a blessing. However, growing up with HLHS is not.
Like other patients I meet, contact sports are off the books, getting winded happens rather easily, and, once you hit 21, your ability to get a drink with your friends is limited and, in some cases, is prohibited. Yet, for congenital heart patients, one thing is clear: These troubles are the least of our worries. Rather, one cloud that looms over every congenital heart patient’s head is the issue of weight.
By and large, Americans struggle to keep the pounds off. And who can blame us? Fast food is expedient and cheap, healthy food is expensive, and the least fortunate of us live miles away from places where healthy, whole foods are accessible.
I am 23 years old, and I have been obese or overweight most of my life. I was a big kid. In fact, I would argue that I was probably among the heaviest in my K-12 class. Thus, weight is not something I have ever been free of thinking of, nor will it ever be.
However, rather than allow weight to conquer me, this is the story of my ongoing attempt to conquer weight. Losing weight is hard, but add on the fact that you have a heart condition, exercise restrictions, and sport restrictions—and losing weight is even harder.
Let me start this story in college, the heaviest point in my life.
It was freshman year. Christmas was over and it was time for a long-awaited visit with my primary care physician. I do not dread doctor appointments, but I knew going into this one I would be criticized for weight gain. Most students gain weight in college; I knew I was not an exception. Yet, it was in high school when I last weighed myself. I was around 235 pounds by the time I graduated high school and I figured I had gained 10 pounds at most. It was a shocker to discover that I gained so much weight as to be nearly 300 pounds.
Yet, a shocker was what I needed. I always knew I needed to lose weight, but I never found the motivation to do so, nor did I ever think my weight could get so out of hand. Nearly 300 pounds, I thought I was close to being diagnosed with diabetes, or even worse, close to having a heart attack. This time, something had to be done.
Two days following that appointment, I gathered what I had in savings at the time and put it towards an entry level hybrid bike, which I purchased at a local bike shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I was living at the time. I did not meditate on or do any research that led me to get a bike; I just knew I needed to do cardio. I hate running, riding the stationary bikes at the gym is boring, and swimming is really only a summer activity, so outdoor cycling it was. An entry level Giant Escape was nothing special, but it would help in getting the pounds off.
Looking back now, it must have been a blessing that my second semester of freshman year was smooth sailing. I only had classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and was only taking 12 hours, so I had a lot of time to devote to exercising. Every day off during the entire semester, between 20-45 minutes, I was on the bike. On the weekends, I went on a two-hour ride with a friend. Now, of course, I was not perfect. There were days I did not ride, and there were weekends where two hours turned into 30 minutes, but for the most part, I stuck with the routine.
How much weight did I lose? Well, stay tuned…
Be on the lookout for my next post where I continue this story and discuss how outdoor cycling did not only lead to weight loss for me, but so much more.
Note: Always make sure to check with your ACHD cardiologist before beginning any exercise routine.
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