- Stephen Alexander
- Portland Tribune - Features
Father and son credit 'Biggest Loser' with saving their lives
Meet Arthur Wornum of Southeast Portland. At a one-time weight of 646 pounds, Wornum had grown used to children pointing at him when he left his home. He was apprehensive about walking his daughter to her first day of school because the other kids might make fun of her. He wondered whether he would fail to wake up one morning, leaving his wife Heather to raise their two children alone.
He was embarrassed.
One night in January 2009, while watching the season premier of 'The Biggest Loser,' Wornum heard trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper chastise the obese in America for sitting on the sofa instead of doing something about their problem. Wornum couldn't imagine that one day he would be the poster boy for the NBC television show, and it would help him drop more than 300 pounds, save his life, galvanize the relationship with his father and allow him to become a living testimony to the power of taking control of one's life.
At his whopping 646 pounds, Wornum went to a specialty store to buy a $500 scale that went up to 750 pounds and discovered just how far into the world of the obese he had entered.
'I immediately unplugged the scale and put it back in the closet,' Wornum says. 'Out of sight, out of mind.'
Wornum was about to have an 'aha' moment that would save his life.
Less than a month after weighing himself, Wornum had a medical problem that confined him to his bed for a week. While watching a show about the Brookhaven Obesity Clinic in New York, Wornum saw a man weighing 700 pounds who had not moved in years. His bed was filled with dirt and feces. When several people lifted the man onto a gurney, he went into cardiac arrest.
'It was my wake-up call,' Wornum says. 'It was like, 'What am I doing to myself? I am literally a couple of large pizzas away from 700 pounds.' '
At that moment Arthur said a prayer: 'Thank you Lord, because at this size, there's no guarantee I'm going to wake up tomorrow morning. I need your help. Put the path in front of me, Lord. Whatever it is, you just put the path in front of me and I promise you I will do it. '
Wornum's first goal was simple: Cut out all fast food. Quickly, he lost 50 to 75 pounds. Soon, he began lightly exercising. Mostly through his diet, Wornum got his weight down to 507 pounds. He could not lose more than that.
'It was insane'
Meet Arthur's father, Jesse Wornum. For 40 years, Jesse had been struggling with his weight. Though he was active, he hovered around 300 pounds.
'I've often believed that if I wasn't doing something about it over the years I probably would have been as big as Arthur,' Jesse says. 'But, off and on, I've exercised enough to stay around that 300 level.'
In March 2010, 'The Biggest Loser' came into the Wornums lives, as it has for many during the past several years, serving as a visible influence for the obese to change their ways.
The Wornums tried out for the Season 10 show. NBC casting directors liked them, but, because Season 10 was shortened, they knew it would not be long enough for Arthur.
The two joined the show this year for Season 11 and their lives have never been the same. Though they are off the ranch now, after being eliminated in consecutive weeks, the changes Arthur and Jesse made on 'The Biggest Loser' Ranch and have continued to make since coming home in early January have been beyond amazing. Arthur now weighs 340 pounds. Jesse weighs 223 pounds.
'I am doing absolutely wonderful,' Arthur says. 'Absolutely wonderful.'
Arthur, 34 and a stay-at-home father, says he has completely reversed his Type 2 diabetes. He is no longer even a pre-diabetic. He still has a long way to go before he reaches the goal weight of 250 pounds his doctors have set for him. Arthur is working hard to get there, spending six to eight hours a day walking and going to the gym.
'I am a professional athlete that's trapped in my body now,' Arthur says. 'I jump rope now like I'm Rocky Balboa.'
Arthur understands the rest of his weight will not come off overnight. After all, getting up to 646 pounds did not happen that way.
Arthur says he was a wrestler and football player at Cleveland High, and he entered high school weighing 210 to 220 pounds. Between his junior year and his senior year, he put on close to 100 pounds.
'I was running around chasing girls and running with the wrong crowd and the next thing you know I'm not doing the things I needed to do,' Arthur says.
After high school when his sports career ended, Arthur gave up exercise and continued his caloric consumption. He packed on an average of 20 pounds per year during the next 15 years.
'If you're eating a large pizza every night and some McDonald's for breakfast, it's easy to get 4,000 or 5,000 calories consumed,' Arthur says. 'It was insane what I was doing to myself.'
Rock into diamond
Jesse's health has greatly improved as well. He has been able to get his diabetes and blood pressure under control. As a single man, it has been difficult for Jesse, 61, to continue his weight loss journey. But, he has a goal of having a 32-inch waist that he is striving to reach.
Jesse, who says he has successfully overcome drug and alcohol addiction, has more willpower than most.
'I would like to, by the ('Biggest Loser') finale this spring, be around 193 pounds,' Jesse says. 'My goal is to lose 100 pounds. But, I have to step in that finale with a 32-inch waist. I feel that a 32-inch waist will mean my interior and exterior body have adapted and are operating at peak efficiency for me at my age.'
Jesse, an insurance agent, says that obesity and drug and alcohol problems are symptoms of a larger problem.
'All of them - obesity, drug addiction, alcohol addiction - all of those things are only symptoms to something else being out of sync in an individual,' Jesse says. 'We fall on alcohol and drugs and then when you get rid of the alcohol and drugs you go somewhere else. For me, it's been a steady growth process. And now, 'The Biggest Loser' is playing a steady role in the last part of that process. The truth is, I know it's all going to be okay. I didn't feel like that before.'
Arthur and Jesse have always had a strong relationship. When he was younger, Arthur used to wake up early and go through Jesse's morning routine with him. Being together day and night at 'The Biggest Loser' Ranch has only made their relationship stronger.
'I tell people that Arthur and I had a relationship before that was solid as a rock,' Jesse says. 'And as a result of 'The Biggest Loser' the rock turned into a diamond.'
Make the choice
Now that they are back in Portland, Arthur and Jesse are determined not only to continue changing their lives, but, to change the lives of others. They are continuing to work out, with the big carrot out there being a $100,000 'at-home' prize given to 'The Biggest Loser' eliminated contestant who loses the most percentage of body weight after being eliminated. 'The Biggest Loser' grand prize is $250,000 for the big winner standing on the scales on the show's season-finale May 24. The show is normally broadcast at 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
Back home, Arthur has talked with other obese people, including a 600-pound man, to help motivate them to change their lives.
'If me talking to this guy and letting him see me can inspire him to start making him change, if I can help just one person out, then my job is done,' Arthur says.
Jesse has started a program called 'Walking with Jesse,' which takes place at various locations Saturday mornings.
'Now we have a responsibility to share with others and help others on this journey we've gone on,' Jesse says. 'And I don't take it lightly. I will tell the world, that we can do, be and have anything that we chose to do, be and have. We need only make the choice.'