Sto:lo Grand Chief Doug Kelly has spent 18 months getting fitter and healthier than he’s been in years.
He did it by waging a slow and determined battle to make major lifestyle changes.
The catalyst was the poor results from a health assessment that he’d taken at a conference.
“When I failed that assessment — and I failed it miserably — I knew I had to make changes,” says Kelly, 53, who is chair of the First Nations Health Council.
He couldn’t escape. He had to exercise more. Transform the diet. Ditch the salt. Balance his sugars. Bring down the blood pressure. He had to get serious.
But he also knew himself well enough to grasp that he had to reduce the weight gradually, or it would all be gained back, “with interest.”
Now he’s crediting stalwart support from his doctor, and his wife, his family, and fellow FHNC members, for helping him get this far.
Kelly’s healing journey started about two years ago, when he was challenged by the CEO of the First Nations Health Authority, Joe Gallagher, to become a health “champion” along with other members of FNHC.
“He put it as kindly and diplomatically as possible that he needed role models to step up and model healthy behaviour. That starts with everybody taking personal responsibility for their own well being.”
Kelly just ran his first 10-kilometre race in decades over the weekend in Victoria, and has committed to doing a half-marathon later this summer.
“I ran out of gas at the 8-km mark, and it was only my stubbornness that got me through it,” he says.
But he enjoyed it.
“What a beautiful day for a run, with thousands of folks from all races and many places,” Kelly posted on his Facebook page after the event.
He was please to finish it without walking, and within his goal of an hour and 10 minutes.
That’s a long way away from where he was at not too long ago, huffing and puffing at 325 pounds, trying to kickstart his fitness regime.
It’s one thing to accept the idea of a healing journey in your head, he says. But it’s another to really accept it in your heart.
Grand Chief Kelly and his wife, Sherry, cleaned up their diet dramatically last year by cutting out most simple carbs and going gluten-free. He loves red meat, but these days he opts for chicken or fish, and more vegetables now.
“We eliminated processed food, junk food, and fast food to concentrate on fresh, healthy food,” Kelly says. “When I think about going on on a diet, it feels like i’m being punished.
“If I think, ‘I’m eating healthy food,’ it helps me make that attitude adjustment. I make choices every day about eating healthier.”
The job requires him to travel across the province, meaning he’s eating out on the road lots of the time.
“I order lots of salads, with chicken, fish, or shrimp.”
He is walking the walk, as well as talking the talk.
“I’m open about what I’m doing and what I’m going through,” he says.
Kelly has about 1000 friends on Facebook, and many have messaged him to say how much his journey has inspired them to commit to their own health plans.
“I didn’t fully appreciate until then what possible impact that role models could have on people.”
Losing his parents while they were still young had a profound effect on him.
“I never believed I’d make it to 50,” he says. “Every day since then has been a bonus. Now I’m asking what kind of shape I will be in as a great-grandfather.”
He has lost a whopping 80 pounds over the 18 months.
“If you would have told me two years ago that I’d be here, having lost all that weight, I would have said ‘No way.'”
He did it with dietary changes and exercise, at first by walking, and then running. He has kept 75 lbs off his tall frame. It all began with taking a walk after dinner every night.
Kelly used to run as a young man.
“I ran six miles everyday in part because of my circumstances. I had to burn off some anger.”
But once he started working, and having children over the past few decades, the focus was always on providing for his family. The running habit fell by the wayside.
He’s getting back into it now that he’s committed to the half-marathon.
“That’s my next goal. I’ve got three months.”
He plans to drop another 15 lbs, run three times a week, and head to the gym several times a week for strength training.
A couple of other changes have made a difference. He reduced his insane work hours and increased his sleep from about four to six hours per night, up to between six and nine hours per night.
“I significantly reduced the work hours, but I’ve managed to become more efficient. I make time now for myself and my family.”
His blood pressure is down and his blood sugar levels are good.
“Life is a whole lot better when you make an effort to create a personal wellness plan, and then you carry it out.”