From 5XL to XL: Small-Town Coach Makes Big Change

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(CNN) — Luke Cox used to be an athlete. But a year ago, no one would have called him that.

The 31-year-old high school social studies teacher and coach weighed about 415 pounds and was too big and tired at the end of the day to get on the floor and play with his kids.

At 6 foot 5, Cox was wearing 5XL T-shirts and size 50 jeans. He couldn’t stop eating. His mornings began with two breakfast sandwiches and two jelly doughnuts. At night, Cox ate candy and stole the snacks his kids, then 2, 3 and 5 years old, were supposed to take to school the next day.

The junk food binges put a strain on his body, the family’s food budget and his relationships.

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“Here I was teaching students and athletes discipline and hard work when I had none myself,” the Missouri dad wrote in on CNN iReport. “I would come home after practice and ignore my wife and young children and sit in front on the TV and fall asleep there.”

His wife, Rudy, remembers him saying, “I just don’t know where to start. So I’m not going to.” She would ask him to take a walk with her, and he would say, “That’s pointless. Where am I walking to?”

Rudy had heard about a 12-week weight-loss challenge beginning that March, hosted by Kansas City Fitness Magazine. On January 11, 2013, she e-mailed a “wife’s plea” to admit her husband.

“Please give him a chance and help him to save his life,” she wrote. “Luke is everything to our family.”

The program, similar to “The Biggest Loser” TV show, provided 30 contestants with licensed trainers, gym memberships, nutrition counseling, life coach sessions, weekly weigh-ins and weekends at an “accountability ranch.” The 10 people with the greatest weight loss percentage won a makeover and a feature in the magazine.

Participants were asked to raise a $600 entry fee from family and friends as a way to stay accountable.

“I didn’t like that at first. I felt uncomfortable asking people to pay for my mistake,” Cox said. But it was effective. “If people were willing to do that, I didn’t want to let them down.”

The competition gave Cox the motivation he had been looking for, but he was at a disadvantage. Living in Tarkio, Missouri, a small town 2½ hours from Kansas City, he couldn’t make use of the licensed physical trainers, state-of-the-art gyms and group workouts that the other contestants had access to.

That only made him more determined.

“I had this chip on my shoulder. I didn’t have the trainers that they did; I didn’t have the gyms they got to work out in,” he said. He thought to himself, “I’ll show you guys I’m not some country bumpkin.”

Cox, who managed to lose a few pounds on his own before the competition began, asked Ty Ratliff, the local elementary school gym teacher and a fellow coach, to be his trainer. They did high-intensity interval workouts and sprints three, and then four, times a week using the high school gym, weight room and track, and a local recreation center.

It was a new challenge for Ratliff, who was used to bulking kids up as the weight-training teacher and head high school football coach.

“Usually, our goal is to get kids bigger, faster and stronger. Here, we were doing the opposite: taking pounds off Luke,” Ratliff said. “We wanted to him to get stronger … but we were really focused on the cardiovascular aspect.”

Cox never skipped a workout. At the same time, he overhauled his diet. He weaned himself off soda and made sure he was getting lots of lean protein. For breakfast, he ate three hard-boiled eggs and Greek yogurt. Lunch was a spinach salad with 2 ounces of shaved turkey. For dinner, he ate grilled chicken or fish. He prepared his meals the night before and wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t in his Nebraska Cornhuskers lunchbox.

“I left my wallet at home so I couldn’t go to the school snack machine. I didn’t eat with my fellow teachers in the cafeteria because I knew I would want to eat the cafeteria food. I ate in my room by myself. Once I gained enough confidence in myself, I began to eat with them and I brought my wallet to school without going to the snack machine,” he wrote in his iReport.

His small town of about 1,600 people was a big source of encouragement.

“One morning, I bought some victory doughnuts for my basketball team. The clerk at the convenience store reminded me that I was trying to lose weight and that I didn’t need those,” he said. “I told her that I appreciated her concern and that they were a surprise for my team. That is what is great about a small town.”

The hard work paid off: He ended up winning the competition. In 12 weeks, he dropped from 396 to 316 pounds, a 20.2% loss in body weight, and got the biggest feature in the July/August Kansas City Fitness Magazine. He has another profile in the magazine this month.

And he kept going. He recently bought his first XL T-shirt since freshman year of college and ran his first 5K. He now weighs 283 pounds and would like to get down to 265 or 270.

“I know with my frame, I’m always going to be a big guy, but I want to be a strong, physically fit guy,” he said. “I’ll never go back, because I know how hard I’ve worked to change that.”

The transformation has changed his whole family. Instead of watching TV together, they go to the rec center five days a week as a family. Cox comes home now and cooks for his wife and kids, goes for bike rides with them and jumps on the trampoline. Though his kids are still quite young — 3, 4 and 6 — he’s apologized to them for being so big and not having as much fun with them as a dad should have.

“He’s full of energy now. … He’s a totally different person,” wife Rudy said. “In their eyes, they have their dad back.”


  • carol cookie bennett

    would love to have that here but I wouldn’t be able to make it to any workout center nor do I have access to school gym or coaches .. so happy for Luke Cox with your big win in your life but I lack a lot of recourses to have that happen for me….

    • Chris

      Who needs a gym? Going for a walk, checking out exercise videos and making an appointment to exercise every day in the privacy of your own home will get you similar results.

  • Bernadine Yagl Kosman

    I have a gym/rec center….$200 for a yearly fee, included indoor track swimming pool, treadmills etc….Hated the thought of going….I have a treadmill and bike at home, so boring…..hooked up with a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic. Had my first weigh in in May 2013….My goal was not to be fat and 55 in September….one tool I loved, was my Droid phone and pandora…listened to music and WALKED…..first walk was 15 minutes…thought I was going to die! Visits to the nutritionist every 6 weeks, insurance covered the cost…. Got up to a 15 minute mile! 4 miles in and hour…wanted to participate in a 5K, but cannot run because of back issues, so I just kept on walking…I would arrive for appointments or other things early and walk for 30 minutes or so…..walked wherever I could…sometimes took the dog, but she is 12 years old and couldn’t keep up…..lost 65 pounds by September, not at my goal weight yet, but made it through holidays without gaining, and now a little setback because I tore my meniscus and had to have it repaired…..have to wait a few more days and then it is off to walk in the pool…..easier on the knees and better in the cold weather….I am not giving up.! Sometimes you just have to find your own resources that fit for you! And don’t give up!!!

  • Christine

    Congrats to Luke Cox. Carol Cookie Bennet- I do not know you but I feel for you. Excuses are just that…excuses. One does not need the gym or coach only the motivation to move. Can you walk? Do you have access to music? Make a plan and commit to yourself… Each song equals one exercise(movement)..walk in place the whole song. March in place the whole song. Dance, the whole song. Stretches, the whole song. Obviously you have a computer…so look up some simple body moves, Plank, squats, leg lifts, push ups. Your body is YOUR gym. JUST DO IT!! Best Wishes and KEEP MOVING :)

  • SoSueMe

    Good for him. He worked hard to get fit and healthy and stayed the course to achieve his goal. Which isn’t easy.

  • Brian Landis

    way to go guys i know where your coming from i used to be 425 pounds and used to wearing a size 56 pants and 4xl shirts its taken me 2 years. but im down to 330 and am now wearing a 46 pants and a 3xl shirt my goal is in sight of 250 pounds by the end of the summer this year.

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