AFTER MAKING MAJOR LIFESTYLE CHANGES, HARLO MCCALL DROPS 100 POUNDS AND LOOKS FORWARD TO CHAIRING THE TEXARKANA HEART WALK ON MAY 19
text by LISA PORTERFIELD THOMPSON | photo by MOLLY MINTER
Harlo McCall woke up on his 45th birthday addicted to Pepsi, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and weighing over 320 pounds. “I remember looking in the mirror wondering, ‘How did I get here?’” he said. “Maybe the lack of physical activity and unhealthy addictions to food had something to do with it. I decided it was time to do something about it. As a nurse, I was aware of the health factors involved with being overweight, and I was tired of being tired all of the time.”
Harlo has been a Registered Nurse for over 20 years. Most of his career has been providing acute care, but he joined HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Texarkana, Texas, in November of 2014. He was in the middle of his journey to becoming healthier when he and his wife of 29 years, Mandy, and their six children made the transition to Texarkana.
“When I was younger, I thought I was immortal like most young men do,” Harlo said. “Unfortunately, I paid the price in my 20’s with two knee surgeries and a back surgery. Between the surgeries and the demands of my career, as well as my growing family, my overall physical activity began to decline along with my overall fitness. Next thing I know, I started to outgrow all my clothes. I remember a doctor telling me that I better watch out or I would soon weigh 250 pounds. I laughed it off, thinking it would never happen to me. But then, it did.”
So, on his 45th birthday, Harlo decided it was time for a change. “Unfortunately, the holidays kept me from staying focused,” he said. “Next thing I knew, it was February of 2014, and I still weighed between 320-325 pounds. I was failing to decrease my intake enough to offset my output. I knew I had to make a drastic change on one side of the equation. Lifting weights was not enough, so I began to think, ‘Can I actually run?’
“I put on a pair of tennis shoes and took off down the street,” he said. “I will never forget how painful that first run was. I could barely trot along for a quarter of a mile without stopping to walk. However, I forced myself to complete a full two miles. I was so frustrated at that point. All I could think about was how pitiful I had become. Not only was I obese, I was in my mid-forties.”
Harlo’s midlife crisis of sorts really began the next day when he felt the physical pain from the run. “Little did I know, but the real pain didn’t start until the next day,” he said. “I could hardly get out of bed. I immediately understood why so many people start exercise programs only to give up soon after. I decided to apply the same principles I used as a leader to my own physical fitness. No matter what happens, ‘just cook the fries.’”
Harlo uses the phrase “just cook the fries” often, in both his personal and professional life. In essence, he uses it to remind himself and others that no matter what task is ahead of you, no matter how big and challenging the situation, follow the process and stay the course, then you will be that much closer to your goal.
Although Harlo had been active as a younger adult, and was a healthcare professional, he was not confident in how to approach a healthier lifestyle within his physical constraints of being overweight, having had surgeries, and being out of shape. “I spoke with some of my therapists at the hospital to get advice on dealing with the physical pain of starting a running program,” Harlo said. “To be honest, the absolute best advice I got was to invest in a good pair of running shoes. Especially as a heavy runner, I needed more cushioning for the pounding my lower legs were taking.”
The shoes would get Harlo started in the right direction, but the difficulty of becoming and staying motivated remained. “Next, I had to be consistent,” he said. “No matter if I felt like it or not, I had to get out and run. We are taught to push through the pain when we are young, but I forced myself to change that mind-set. Whether it was running or lifting weights, I learned to listen to my body. I ran with a goal but stopped being hard on myself if my body couldn’t do it. If I felt like I needed to walk, I would walk. The only non-negotiable was distance. No matter how I did it, I had to complete my distance goal. As I started to feel a little better, it became easier to cut back on soda and sweets, as I began to pay attention to what I put into my mouth.”
For Harlo, he admits that sometimes life gets in the way of staying healthy. “It isn’t always easy to eat the right things or find time to exercise,” he said. “I still enjoy food, and there is always something available in a hospital. Since I refuse to deny myself, I rely heavily on being able to get out and run. The weather and schedules do not always make it easy, but I make time. If for some reason I have to skip a day, I don’t let it get me down. I just pick back up the next day.”
Harlo says that now he is able to do things he could never think about doing before he made lifestyle changes. “At 49, having the energy to do the things I want to do, whether hiking with my kids or simply playing with my grandson, keeps me motivated. The great thing about recreational running is achieving your own personal goals. I will never win first overall at a race, and at 220 pounds, I don’t always place in the top 3 of my age group. However, I can always achieve a personal best. Can I cut 30 seconds or even a minute off my time? Can I complete the next level of distance? Those are all things that keep me headed in a good direction.”
Harlo is serving as the 2018 chairman of the Texarkana Heart Walk, sponsored by the American Heart Association. The walk, on May 19, 2018, at Spring Lake Park, is meant to bring awareness to heart health and cardiovascular diseases in the community.
“Most of my nursing career was in the ER or caring for people with cardiovascular disease or stroke, and there is nothing more humbling than seeing a seemingly healthy person suffer from one of these instances,” he said. “Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits provide the perfect storm of opportunity for developing heart problems and/or suffering a stroke. I knew a physician who used to tell patients that we should choose our parents wisely. He said it as a tongue-in-cheek reminder that although our family history may predispose us to certain conditions, it is not a death warrant. There are many factors still in our control. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, regular check-ups, and knowing the early warning signs are all things we can do to prevent a life-changing event such as heart disease or stroke. The AHA/ ASA provides our communities the education and programs necessary for prevention and recovery. Heart disease kills more people every year than all of the cancers combined.” For more information about the American Heart Association or the 2018 Texarkana Heart Walk, visit http://www2.heart.org.