The biggest loser is the biggest winner
April 21, 2009
When Parkite Alex Lair crossed the finish line of the Salt Lake City half marathon, the medal they placed around his neck was the most important award he had ever received. It was the recognition of a life-changing achievement.
Almost a year ago, a sprained ankle brought Lair into the doctors, but he left with more than a brace and a prescription for pain meds.
Lair, age 20, was found to have dangerously high blood pressure and the doctor said he was borderline for a myriad of health problems that most people don’t see for another 30 years. Lair, who had grown up a skinny kid, knew his weight had become a problem in recent years, but had never done anything about it. This time, the alarm finally went off in Lair’s head and he decided it was time for a life change.
"That’s when it truly scared me," he said. "That’s not the type of stuff a person my age should have."
The University of Utah student started out slowly. First it was walks around Old Town. Diet came next. Lair cut out sodas and began to watch what he was eating. Then he signed up for a membership with his dad, Joe, at the Park City Racquet Club. Lair was up to five days a week at the gym when he moved to Salt Lake for school. His dad predicted that it would be the end of the healthy habits, but Lair became even more serious at that point. He began running around his Sugar House neighborhood and added a little more distance each day.
It wasn’t easy.
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"I could barely run a mile without collapsing," he said.
But Lair kept pushing himself. A half mile soon became a mile and, as Lair progressed, so did his weight loss. Soon he had a two-mile route that he ran every day, sometimes even twice a day.
Then came the day that he could run without stopping. Lair remembered back in 10th grade when he had to run a mile-and-a-half in gym class and it had taken him 20 minutes, and decided to time himself. He was running nine-minute miles.
"I’d never been a runner before," he marveled.
As the weather turned colder, Lair began running on the track in the University of Utah’s field house and began to closely monitor his distance, which was growing by the day. About that time, his older brother, Josh, told him about a friend who was running the Salt Lake City Marathon in April. A light bulb went off in Lair’s head.
"I decided it was best to see if I could actually do it," he said.
At that point, he began gearing his training towards the 13-mile distance, slowly getting closer each week. Finally, two weeks ago, he did it.
He also got back on the scale. He had lost 80 pounds since that fateful day the previous July.
"I feel infinitely better," he said.
But the biggest change happened on the inside. Gone were the self-image problems, replaced by a new-found confidence about his appearance and his ability to go out and do whatever he desired.
Lair said the best part was that he did it gradually and healthfully.
"I wanted to keep it natural," he said. "When you eat right and exercise, you can do it."
That was a marked change for Lair, who in high school would quickly ditch diets when he didn’t see instant results. But this time patience and smart choices paid off. People started telling him that he looked like a different person.
"It’s a part of my life now," he said.
So much a part of his life that he has started influencing his family and friends to make smart choices. He regularly tells his friends to think about their nutrition. Most of his family has given up soda. His father gave up smoking and continued his gym membership.
"It’s not that hard and it doesn’t take that much time," Lair pointed out. "It’s nice to see I have made a difference."
Before the race, Lair reflected on how far he had come in a short time.
"Before, I would never have thought about running a mile and now it’s nothing to me," he said.
And Lair did it. Running about 10-minute miles, he finished the half marathon in two hours and 15.2 minutes. His body was hurting a little due a small injury a few weeks earlier, but his spirits were soaring.
"I am so proud of myself," Lair said. "I can’t believe I just did this."
"You can see the difference by the look on his face," said Joe.
Lair’s story will continue to be an inspiration for his community. Joe, his father, heads up the wellness program at Deer Valley Resort and made Alex the poster boy for the program.
"It’s his commitment and improved determination," said his dad.
Lair wasn’t the only Summit County resident who had a big day at the Salt Lake City race. Clayton Elbert, 22, of Oakley took second in the crank-wheelchair event of the marathon, while Shay Kearns and Seth Thompson finished as the top female and male Park City residents, respectively, in the full marathon.
For complete marathon results, see B-4.