Alex McKeague, 49, hadn’t been able to wear his wedding ring for over 20 years.
When his wife handed him a coupon for a free trial at Big Vanilla he weighed over 300 pounds. McKeague did some research and discovered that the club offered “The 90-Day Challenge,” a fitness challenge that placed members onto teams of 19 to 20 people, led by a coach that educated participants on how to lose weight. Finding the team atmosphere of the challenge appealing, McKeague decided to give the challenge a shot.
The 90-Day Challenge helped McKeague lose 150 pounds, but that was just the beginning. Since, he has competed in a 5K, a half marathon, a full marathon, two triathlons, an Iron Man competition, and can once again wear his wedding ring.
At the beginning of his journey, Big Vanilla encouraged McKeague to start off slow. He began working out between 15 and 30 minutes, six days a week. With the continued support of Big Vanilla, he progressed from there. “I gave what I had, but I didn’t have that much [at first],” said McKeague. “For me, the biggest help was the team I was on. I spent most of my life over 300 pounds, but what really got me involved was the team atmosphere.”
To supplement his workouts, Big Vanilla educated McKeague on how to make key lifestyle changes in order to succeed, and the club taught wellness classes on topics such as emotional eating and how to stop engaging in negative behaviors. “How can I be an emotional eater?” asked McKeague. “I’m a guy. Guys don’t have emotion.” Big Vanilla taught him otherwise, and the staff and team provided a support system that was essential to his success. “A change of lifestyle — that’s what the 90-Day Challenge is about.”
What set Big Vanilla apart from other gyms for McKeague took place the very first time he participated in a Big Vanilla group fitness class. Noticing that McKeague was new, the instructor came up to him after class and invited him to return. “That was a huge thing,” said McKeague. “With [other clubs], they have the equipment, but I never was engaged in the facility or the classes.”
McKeague has now completed Big V’s 90-Day Challenge five times — twice as a member, and three times as a coach. He has lost a total of 160 pounds. “I couldn’t have done that without the help of Big V and the 90-Day Challenge,” he said.
The experience allowed him to have what he called “grandchildren envy.” The father of two, standing in church on All Saints Day with his friends and some of their grandchildren, McKeague realized that seeing his grandchildren grow up might be a possibility — something he had never hoped for before. “I realized it was the first time I envisioned myself growing old to have grandchildren. This concept of having a long life was life changing.”
Now a coach of the challenge, McKeague looks forward to hearing the success stories of others on his team. “One of my favorite things about the challenges are all the stories about how it changes and affects people’s lives,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people do things they don’t think they can do.”
Members such as McKeague, who wanted to lose 50 pounds or more, are becoming more common in health clubs. Therefore, it’s important to create an environment where members feel welcome and most importantly — un-judged. How do you take time to give members individualized attention? Do you invite them to return to a class and provide them with essential tips on how to make key lifestyle changes? By engaging new members you can make the gym experience much less intimidating and an easier commitment for members.
By Rachel Zabonick