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Player blasts free from overweight gamer stereotype

Before and after
From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

Teeth-gritting stereotypes aside, the intersection of fitness and gaming is something we've covered a fair amount here at WoW Insider. There's the player who set up a system of "leveling down" as he lost weight, although a visit to his blog these days doesn't turn up much action. There's the player who lost 100 pounds on a treadmill while he played WoW, before such exercise setups were relatively common. We even ran an entire series last year on shaping up, Buffing for BlizzCon.

What we haven't run yet is a story on a gamer who's taken the weight off and kept it off while not only piling on new interests and active pursuits but also maintaining his love of WoW and gaming. A WoW player since the days of the original beta, Jonathan (aka Thundertotem) was a finalist in Subway Canada's Commit to Fit Ambassador search. While he wasn't ultimately chosen as the Subway representative and spokesperson, he says he remains a hardcore gamer even with his weight loss and fitness success.

Before weight loss
Main characters Thundertotem, shaman; Proudhoof, warrior
Guild Kindread
Realm Kel'Thuzad (US)

WoW Insider: Tell us about your journey to lose weight and shape up. What kicked off the entire campaign?

Jonathan: [Editor's note: This first reply is excerpted from Jonathan's entry for the Commit to Fit Ambassador contest.] In 2004 at age 22, I weighed approximately 330 pounds (I stopped weighing myself around then) when I came to the understanding in my heart that I was not happy with my health and something needed to change. As a cry for help, I went to a local physician and talked about my health with him. He had me take some blood tests to see where I was. When the results came in, he revealed that I was about 90% on the way to being diabetic. He read me the riot act and told me things needed to change. Change they did.

Over the summer, I started to reduce my calorie intake. What started with better eating quickly turned into a crash diet. I eventually was down to eating 1,000 calories a day -- 200 calories of cereal in the morning, a small sandwich at lunch, and a regular dinner (minus anything that looked like real calories).

Fourteen months later, I weighed somewhere in the range of 180 pounds. With the rapid weight loss came the excess skin around my arms, thighs, and waist. I carried a lot of weight around my sides and back, which left what could be described as a large fanny pack around my back.

I knew I wanted to shed the extra skin. After seeing a surgeon, I was informed that I would need two surgeries to remove the skin around my waist. The arms and legs were considered too complicated and costly to do anything about. The abdominoplasty in the front and the belt lipectomy in the back would be done over two separate four-and-a-half-hour surgeries and would cost somewhere in the range of $8,000 each. I was fresh out of university at the time and underemployed, so I said "thank you very much" and tried to get the hope of ever removing the excess skin out of my head.

Life after weight loss
There were many factors that drove my weight back up, but I do consider a major factor to be that once I crossed the threshold of 200 pounds or so, I could see no tangible difference in my physical makeup due to all the excess skin. It made it relatively impossible to gauge my weight in any natural way. It also meant that it was difficult to find clothes that fit properly (especially pants). Basically, many of the advertised benefits of weight loss, including (in many ways) better health, were impossible to achieve without the surgery. I also didn't exercise with any regularity, which was an enormous problem in hindsight.

I again decided being big was not what I wanted and I started to lose weight again. This time, the plan was to do it the right way (diet and exercise combined). It took me two months to work up the courage and willpower to start again. I knew that it would take minimum [of] two years to lose the weight properly.

I entered a basic fitness program at the university called TrymGym. By September 2009, I was about 240 pounds. I started a program of exercise that included weight training and cardio with a trainer. I eventually was training in a gym three days a week. I started seeing a personal trainer once a week to help keep me motivated. Jay, the trainer, was an amazing help and support. His positive attitude and workouts were fantastic.

In the spring of 2010, I started to play hockey again as a goalie. My long-time high school friends called me one day and invited me onto their summer team. It meant a great deal then and still means a great deal now. They gave me an opportunity to belong to a group of guys that I had wanted to be a part of for so long. We have had lots of success in our first two seasons together. Last year we made it to the league final.

In June 2010, I took up half-marathon running. My uncle thought my level of fitness at the time mean I could handle the training. He was right. I was invigorated by running. We signed up for a half-marathon program at the Eau Claire running room location and never looked back. Much like my hockey, my running group became another team. I felt and still feel an immense loyalty to them. The structure of the running program made it easy to follow and relatively easy to train for with the right motivation.

BeforeI have worked full time as a fundraiser for a cancer charity for the last four years. The stable salary meant I could look towards funding the skin reduction surgeries on my own with the benefit of savings. In August, I saw the surgeon again and walked out with two surgery appointments. The total cost of the surgeries was estimated at $25,000.

In late November, I went under the knife for five hours. I was given a spinal anesthetic that made me numb up through my chest for the duration of the surgery. This meant that I was fully awake (I could move my arms and head) for the duration of the procedure. They told me to bring an iPod to the surgery beforehand (I did not), which makes a lot more sense in hindsight. I could feel them tug and pull for the duration. It was a little surreal. The second, six-hour surgery on the back took place in January. This time, the spinal wore off a little too soon and I could feel them suture me back up with great discomfort. It was honestly very painful.

I am writing ... today wearing pants that fit fully around my waist for the first time since grade I now wear small size shirts. I finally have muscle definition in my front, and I no longer have to deal with the pain and irritation of a large amount of excess skin flapping up and down as I run. Most of all, I know that having 8 pounds of skin cut off my body with have a large impact on my overall health moving forward. I now weigh under 175 pounds and look a lot like a guy who runs a little too much.

Wow, what a story! So how much weight have you lost? How has that changed your life overall?

I lost about 150 pounds the first attempt. I gained back 100, and then lost that. So I have lost over 250 pounds in my life.

Life has been amazing since losing the weight. Everything is better, from how I sleep, to my interactions with friends and acquaintances, to girls.

After What was the secret to your final success, in a nutshell?

In a nutshell, it was eating better and exercising. More broadly, it was coming to an understanding that I wanted more out of life. I have started to do many thing since losing the weight (DJing, running) that motivate me every day to stay healthy.

Many people advise simply giving up hobbies such a gaming altogether when you're embarking upon a serious effort to lose a great deal of weight. How and why have you managed to keep WoW a part of your regular activities?

I consider WoW as one of the major factors in helping me lose weight the first time. It engaged me on a level that helped distract me from the constant hunger that came with crash dieting.

My view now is that everything is about balance. I still consider myself a hardcore gamer and do play games, but I am much more willing to try new activities and have incorporated many of those into my routine. As I mentioned above, all of those activities keep me motivated to stay healthy. One of the realities, I feel, is that if you really want to lose weight and live healthier, you have to make many changes to your approach to life. Don't throw the old away, but make sure to bring a lot of new things in. When I bounced back after the first time losing weight, I think it was a lot to do with me being the same person with the same outlook.

Has your lifestyle change permanently changed your relationship with WoW and gaming?

I do game less than before. Losing weight the second time and doing other activities such as DJing meant I could not commit to a regular raid schedule. As a result, I stopped raiding post Wrath. I really do enjoy that aspect of the game, but I have not made attempts to raid casually since.

In game
What's your current playstyle?

I always flip between enhancement and resto. I enjoyed raiding and raided through Wrath. I did 2v2 PvP in Wrath and was moderately successful. I enjoy leveling alts quite a bit and have eight characters and minimum level 70. I did dive into elemental briefly for Crusaders' Coliseum.

When I was most active, I was playing up to 8+ hours a day. Lately it has been down to an hour or two at the very most. I am currently overseas volunteering in Rwanda, and the fact I can send an email is a victory. So I have not been playing over the last little bit.

What else is different for you now that you're back in shape?

A great deal is different. I have a much more positive outlook. I do many more activities and know a lot more people. I really look towards the future in a much more open way than before. I try many new things and look for new and different experiences all the time. Going for a walk with a new friend or traveling to a new destination in the world all has come from my new outlook.

Look for more updates and inspiration from Jonathan on his blog.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from a player battling Alzheimer's disease to Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn), gaming industry insider Liz Danforth and El of El's Extreme Anglin'. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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