Brian Naykki has never ridden on a roller coaster. He’s had plenty of opportunities: waited to the front of long lines and even took his honeymoon in Disney World, only to throw in the towel and ride the train instead.
His excuse: his weight.
“I felt uncomfortable due to my size,” he said. Many of the rides’ seats were too small.
Just last October, the Babbitt man tipped the scale at 418 pounds and said he most likely got even heavier – around 450 pounds.
Since then, he’s lost 111 pounds and is pegging away at the next 82 so he can ride that roller coaster.
“My life goal is to ride a roller coaster,” he said. “My boys have never seen me on an amusement park ride ... We’ll take it slow, at first – a Tilt-a-Whirl or something.”
Brian has been overweight his whole life, he said, but only began to aggressively gain weight after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2004.
Nevertheless, he fought back by buying a gym membership and successfully lost over 100 pounds.
But, this accomplishment didn’t last for long. After he had surgery on a torn bicep, he gained all the weight back and it went downhill from there.
In 2007, he contracted a staph infection in his right foot and, a year later, had amputated his leg from the knee down.
For the next five years, his life fell apart. He lost his job due to frequent hospital visits, slept alone on a hospital bed in the living room and spent his days in front of the TV playing Xbox.
“I gave up on life,” he said. “25 percent of my leg was missing and it controlled 100 percent of my life.”
The biggest loss of all was his relationship with his family, he said.
His wife’s eyes filled with tears when she recalled those years.
“X Box was his life,” said Jodi. “We existed, but he didn’t really hang out with us.”
About the same time Brian began to drift away, the family adopted their boys – then 4-and-a-half and 6-years-old. For the next five years, Jodi said, she practically cared for them by herself.
“I was basically a single parent for a long time. But I needed to do it. They deserved it and needed it,” said Jodi. “I was on survival mode for so long.”
Apart from caring for the kids and bringing her husband to the hospital for his residual infections, Jodi said she missed her once actively loving husband.
“Nobody thought about how it affected me,” she said about her husband’s poor health. “I was doing what I thought was helpful to him, but it wasn’t enough.”
The more Jodi encouraged him to improve his health, the more aggravated Brian became.
“I’d always take my frustrations out on her,” he said.
Each year, Brian’s health grew exponentially worse, until last October, his doctor gave him a maximum of ten years to live.
“I knew I wouldn’t even make it ten,” he said. “I started thinking about where the kids would be in ten years and my marriage.”
Around the same time, Brian’s situation became even more tangible when Jodi’s brother and one of Brian’s friends unexpectedly passed away
“I think it clicked for him,” said Jodi. “Life is short. There’s no promise you’re going to live until you’re 40.”
So, Brian decided to take hold of his life once again and make a 180-degree turn. He logged onto Twitter and reached out to weight-loss coach Sean Huddleston from Lifespeed Fitness in Las Vegas.
Huddleston agreed to help, and for the next eight months, the two of them emailed and worked over Skype to get Brian’s weight down.
Brian began a work-out routine, started keeping a weekly food journal, switched to an almost entirely vegan diet and, in March, slipped on his leg prosthetic and stepped out of his wheel chair to stand on his own two legs for the first time in five years.
The next thing he knew, he was down over 100 pounds, walking on trails and around shopping areas, fitting into clothes he didn’t have to specially order and eating at the dinner table with his family.
“These small things are really just huge in your life,” said Brian. “I feel like I’ve won the lottery.”
And, he’s taking his family along for the ride, too.
They go swimming in Virginia four to five times a week, cook together and even eat the same non-processed, meat-free diet.
“Everybody’s on board with it,” said Jodi. “It’s rare you find us in the house. We have more energy and we’re happier. It’s a whole family change.”
And family is the reason he’s continuing to improve his health, Brian said.
“I don’t want to be that dad who’s sick in bed all the time or behind the camera,” said Brian. “I want to start making memories with our kids and Jodi. We want our kids to have those memories.”
Although he’s made quite the progress, Brian’s journey isn’t finished, he and Jodi agreed. There’s still more weight to be lost and mental battles to be overcome, including self-doubt.
“I haven’t done many things for years, so I doubt if I can still do them,” said Brian.
But, with his own determination and encouragement from Jodi, old friends and Huddleston, he’s able to take each new challenge one baby step at a time and, as Huddleston tells him to do, “enjoy the journey.”
“He’s finding out he is and can be just like everyone,” said Jodi. “He’s not separated by his weight or disability.”
Brian hoped his story might encourage others who are forlorn and struggling – like he once was – to turn their lives around and work towards their own “roller coasters” like he’s doing now.
“Whatever you’re facing, whatever life challenges, don’t give up. Look how far you came. Look back on your achievement and that’ll keep you going,” he said.
To follow Brian’s ongoing story, go to briansfatbustingwraps.com.