Name: Ben Jernigan
Occupation: Insurance adjuster
Hometown: Seguin, Texas
Start Weight: 420 pounds
End Weight: 295 pounds
Time Cycling: 6 years
At my heaviest weight, I was 420 pounds. I’ve always been a pretty hefty guy. In my late teens, I was big, but not obese, at 260 pounds working as a commercial electrician and hitting the weight room. Then, I switched carriers, and my lifestyle went completely sedentary. Slowly over the next four years, I put on more and more weight until I reached the peak. I wore a size 60 suit and a size 54 pants.
I tried extreme diets, but they never did anything except make me more insecure with my body. I went from being strong, big guy to not being able to fit into an airplane seat. One of the dreaded feelings was having to fly a few times a month, and asking immediately for a seatbelt extension, along with the embarrassment of my size when I had to sit next to other people. When you’re that obese, it seems like there’s no way to get out of it.
Then I went through a business venture with an acquaintance that ended up forcing me to start over. That means I was completely broke, and I had lost basically everything. Thankfully, I had a new job that I was starting, and my first assignment was to inspect 30 school roofs with engineers and experts for storm damages.
I remember it was June 2011, while I was inspecting roofs in the Texas heat, following my carrier dreams, that I realized I couldn’t be successful in life and conquer my business goals if I didn’t have my health. I had to do something drastic to change. I was miserable and unhappy in my personal life, and knew that if I didn’t change, it was all downhill from there. I didn’t have much more to lose except for the weight.
My mother had bought me a Trek Cruiser to encourage me to be more active. I knew cycling was something that I enjoyed and had minimal impact to my body, and I could keep my heart rate up for a longer period of time. So I gave it a shot. It was something I could do without going to the gym and feeling out of place.
So I started on a local bike path and set small goals that I knew I could complete. The bike helped me feel stronger both mentally and physically instead of feeling defeated. It also clears my mind and allows me to focus on just being in that moment, and not worrying about everything else. Plus, I could always find events or groups to go riding with other people.
One month after starting, I signed up for a 50-mile event that was two months out. I ended up finishing dead last on my Trek Cruiser. The event people had already left, but I had the most internal satisfaction. I kept that race number, and have placed it where I can see it daily for motivation and reflection.
Now, I stick to what makes me happy: long roads that goes on forever. This is mostly road cycling or bikepacking. I ride with a great team, the Feisty Devils, every year to raise money for the National MS Society.
I’ve been planning to go bikepacking around Ireland. I had a flight booked last year, but I had to cancel due to work. This upcoming year, I’m going to focus on local rides here in Texas, including back to back 150-mile weekends for the National MS Society.
Changing my diet was a huge part of my journey, too. First, I started logging my food with MyFitnessPal every day to make sure I wasn’t taking in more than I was burning. I found out that most days I was eating/drinking normally upwards 6,000 calories.
Second, I made sure that I enjoyed the food I am eating, but also that it contained healthy carbs, vegetables, and lean meats. I cut out the processed foods. The only way to be successful with this is to plan ahead. I know what I like to eat and incorporate that into my meals, and I cook ahead of time so I don’t have to worry about stopping off at Whataburger.
Cycling has given me the confidence to conquer my goals, and more than anything be a motivation for those who don’t have confidence that they can make a change in their life. With cycling and changing my diet, I have gone from 420 pounds to 295. The only way I’ve been able to be successful is consistency, setting realistic expectations and accountability—even if it’s to myself.
The best advice I can give to someone who is going down a similar path right now is you don’t have to conquer all of your battles in life or goals all at one time, but if you don’t start, you will never find out what you can become.