It was really just a routine doctor’s visit for Gary Miller three years ago, but the news took him totally by surprise: He was officially in the overweight category, had high cholesterol and was pre-diabetic.
At 57 years old, it was all reason for Miller to worry, but the last diagnosis concerned him the most as he thought of a cousin who lost a leg to Type 2 diabetes.
“That was a wake-up call,” says Miller, a materials handler for an RV and trailer manufacturer in Goshen, Indiana. He knew he needed to get healthy. The question was how.
It started with exercise and changing what he was eating. Miller’s doctor suggested looking at his diet, becoming more active and trying MyFitnessPal to monitor his food intake.
“Before then, I’d never even heard of it,” he says. Since downloading the app, however, he hasn’t missed a single day of logging.
By March 2015, he’d gone from 257 pounds to 215 pounds and dropped his pant size from 47 to 35, where he’s stayed for the last three years. “I still have the belt I used because it’s kind of a reminder.”
But a lighter body was just a small part of Miller’s journey to better health. Now 60, he’s also found a whole new lifestyle by cycling every day, to the point his younger co-workers have trouble keeping up with him. Come next month, the three-year anniversary of that doctor’s visit, he will have ridden more than 6,000 miles.
“I haven’t been in this good of shape since my 20s,” he says. “I try to ride every day, even in the snow and cold. Now I can ride 30 miles without much trouble at all.”
Reinventing yourself doesn’t happen overnight. Miller was lucky to have the support and encouragement of his family and work colleagues to drive his efforts. But he had to start strong by himself.
“I never regret it. I try to not have any excuses.”
At first, he started simply by walking 30 minutes per day. Then, hoping to reignite his childhood love of biking, he pulled his old bike out of the basement and mixed in rides of 4–6 miles around his neighborhood. When his kids got him a Fitbit and introduced him to Endomondo, he started tracking his rides, too, and paid close attention to the data.
Eventually, he took the bike out of the neighborhood and quickly realized he liked biking more than walking. A lot more. “I think my family thinks I’m a little obsessed now,” he says. He used to text his wife every time he went on a ride; now he texts her if he’s not going.
After putting 1,800 miles on the old bike, Miller upgraded his wheels and now rides almost daily, regardless of the weather — which is no joke in northern Indiana. He’s even ridden on a snowy, 23° day. “It’s actually kind of fun,” he says, “if you dress warmly.”
While sticking with a new exercise regime might be hard enough on its own, Miller’s job makes fitting in his rides even trickier. He wakes up every morning at 3:15 a.m. and is at work by 5 a.m. He spends his day operating a forklift and lifting heavy materials, so by the time he gets home after 2 p.m., the last thing he wants to do is work out.
“I used to come home and couch it,” he says, recalling the feeling of exhaustion from the day’s work. When he decided to commit to a his fitness plan, he had to force himself to get on his bike immediately after getting home — he knew if he sat down or took a break, it would just be harder to get going.
“But once I’m out there, it relieves stress,” he says. “I never regret it. I try not to have any excuses.”
He now rides for a bit over an hour most days — sometimes more — and recently finished his longest ride of 41 miles in just under three hours. Though he knows he could ride even faster if he biked on the road, he prefers to stick to bike paths to avoid cars and stay safe.
His dedication has even rubbed off on others around him. When one of his four children, Bobby, visited this summer, Miller rented a second bike so they could go on a ride together. Even though his son is a runner, “I knew he’d have trouble keeping up,” he jokes. Together, they rode 18 miles.
At work, one of the younger guys wasn’t sure if Miller could keep up with the heavy lifting because of his age. But another colleague set him straight, joking, “Just ask him how much he rides his bike!”
These days, Miller has no problem keeping up with anyone. He beams: “I now proudly wear a T-shirt that says, ‘Never underestimate an old man with a bicycle.’”
Written by Kelly O’Mara, a professional triathlete and reporter outside San Francisco, where she is an on-call producer for the local NPR station. Her work appears regularly in espnW, Competitor, Triathlete and California Magazine.