Adam Cook has transformed his body, his life

Published 9:13 am Thursday, August 22, 2019

Walt Disney World is sometimes called “The most magical place on Earth.” A visit there is a bucket list item for some people, and synonymous with a Florida vacation.  

For Adam Cook, a family trip there was a life changing experience in a different way.  

“We went to Disney World and I wasn’t able to do stuff with my kids. I couldn’t do the rides because I couldn’t fit,” Cook said.

A former college football player who had long struggled to maintain a steady and healthy weight, Cook had ballooned up to 473 pounds by the time of that vacation in November 2017. The experience inspired him to make sudden and drastic changes in both his body and lifestyle.

Today, Cook weighs 245 pounds. He’s finished one triathlon already this year and plans to compete in another in September. He’s happy, energetic and smiling after several years of lethargy.

“I knew I would do good with it. I never thought I would do this well. I would do it over again if I had to,” Cook said. “I know where I was and where I went. It’s not wanting to be that person I was again.”

 

The first time around

Cook was a star high school football player at Warren Central, and went on to play at then-Division III Mississippi College. He left football after two college seasons, and by then the seeds had been planted for a lifelong battle to maintain a steady weight.

As a tight end, Cook was encouraged to gain weight — as much as 60 pounds in one offseason — to be able to block on the offensive line. Although he gave up football and the daily workouts that came with it, backing away from the kitchen table was not as easy.

“I kept the same eating habits and had a sedentary lifestyle,” Cook said.

Over the next decade, Cook settled into life and his job with the family’s business, Cook Tractor. His weight gradually increased to nearly 400 pounds before he decided to do something about it.

Cook started exercising regularly for the first time in years. He lost 100 pounds in 2012 and 2013, and competed in the Ironman New Orleans — a half-triathlon that includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile half-marathon — in 2014. He finished the 70.3-mile race in 8 hours, 55 minutes and 17 seconds.

“I was turning 30 in 2012 and decided it was time to do something,” Cook said, before adding that his old habits quickly returned after the triathlon. “I was running 20 or 30 miles a week so it didn’t matter what I ate. I took a couple of weeks’ break and it turned into three years.”

Three years and about 150 pounds.

Falling back into his old eating and lifestyle habits, Cook once again saw his weight increase. Looking back, he said it affected his life in little ways more than big ones.

“I wasn’t immobile,” he said. “But just walking to the mailbox would get you winded. I’d sit in a chair and fall right asleep.”

By Thanksgiving 2017 he was up to 473 pounds — so heavy that he couldn’t weigh himself on a bathroom scale even if he’d wanted to. That family trip to Disney World was a wake up call. Some other family health issues related to obesity were also showing up with his parents and he knew it was once again time to make drastic changes in his life.

“Genetics-wise, I knew where it was going,” Cook said.

 

Winning the battle

Immediately upon returning to Mississippi from Florida, Cook visited his doctors and made plans to reduce his weight. He was past the point where diet and exercise alone would do the job, so he had gastric sleeve surgery.

The operation removes most of the patient’s stomach, reducing it to a banana-sized “sleeve” that is about a tenth of its normal size. Part of the stomach that produces an appetite-boosting hormone is also removed. The combination both reduces appetite and forces the patient to eat less, thus leading to massive weight loss.

“It was a big mental thing, even before the surgery. I had to think, ‘I’m never going to a buffet or eating a 16-ounce steak again.’ A lot of people don’t do it for that reason alone. I had to decide not to let food have that power over me,” Cook said.

Cook had the surgery on Jan. 8, 2018, and was out of the hospital a couple of days later. Within a few months he was training for a comeback that was as much about getting his life back as it was running a race.

He started running, biking and swimming again. He competed in a sprint distance triathlon — a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run — in Bay St. Louis in April, and is training for a half-triathlon in Augusta, Georgia, in September.

In one week in early June he said he ran 15 miles, biked 75 and swam 5,000 yards, which is typical nowadays. His resting heart rate had been at 90 beats per minute in late 2017. It’s now 46.

Instead of eating junk food he’s on a strict meat-heavy diet — four ounces of food per meal, and 64 grams of protein per day.

“I can eat grilled chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he joked. “I don’t live to eat. I eat to live.”

Between reducing calories and increasing exercise, Cook’s obesity has disappeared into thin air. He’s lost 228 pounds in the 18 months since his surgery. He’s got a naturally big frame, but now weighs the same 245 pounds he did in high school. That’s about as low as he can go, he said.

“I’d like to lose another nine pounds so I can say I’m exactly half of what I used to be. I might have nine pounds of skin I can have them take off,” he said with a laugh.

Cook doesn’t want to go back to where he was two years ago, and keeps a souvenir to remind him of those days. Next to the desk in his office at Cook Tractor is a pair of size 52 blue jeans. His waist is now a trim 36 inches.

On a sunny morning, Cook stepped outside for a demonstration of how far he’s come. With a little effort he was able to fit his entire body into one leg of the cartoonishly large pants.

“I don’t remember being that big. I was in denial,” Cook said.

Nowadays, however, he’s happily accepting a new reality. Besides his exercise and races, the little things he couldn’t do when he was bigger have once again returned to his daily routine.

He’s able to do things with his children. He can walk around the yard at Cook Tractor instead of needing a golf cart. Rather than dozing off when he sits down, he sleeps less than six hours a night and wakes up before the alarm goes off at 5 a.m.

For a second time he’s transformed his body and his life, and he’s got no plans to do it again.

“It helps your level of confidence, your outlook on life. You don’t want your kids to say, ‘My dad is the big fat guy.’ I see people I haven’t seen in a year, they walk in here and don’t recognize me,” Cook said. “I look forward to coming to work. I don’t sit at my desk all day. It changes your outlook on life. If you don’t like who you are, you can get up and do something about it.”

 

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Vicksburg Living.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

email author More by Ernest