In September last year, Morwell’s Michael Crofts was battling “severely morbid obesity”, and held grave fears he would not see his five year-old daughter reach high school.
It was a desperate time which called for desperate measures; Michael took his confronting struggle public, pledging openly to regain control of his life.
“I was literally staring death in the face,” he said at the time, when a walk around two city blocks left him feeling like he would “keel over and die”.
Five months later, The Express checked in with Michael for an update on his quest, and the progress has been astounding.
“It’s a whole new world; my family keep asking who this new person is,” Michael said, a racing bicycle propped up against the wall behind him.
Last fortnight, Michael, now an amateur triathlete, almost cracked the 100 kilometre milestone on a ride through Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
Michael assured he was just as gobsmacked as this journalist was.
While Michael’s initial goal of cutting back to under 100 kilograms still stands – he has lost 22kg from his September bodyweight of 150kg – the stakes have been raised somewhat.
In two years time, Michael intends to compete in one of the biggest endurance events in the world, Iron Man Melbourne, consisting of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a 42km run.
“My training is basically something now that when I get up and go to bed, that’s what I’m thinking about – I had always heard people talking about pushing and testing their body, but I never had understood it, until now,” he said, adding he officially had the triathlon bug.
Through detailed updates on his ‘Save the Whale’ Facebook group, documenting his exercise regimes, personal milestones – and his failures – Michael’s 80-plus followers have kept him on track, offering support and guidance, while sharing the very personal journey in real time.
“There have certainly been low points, which I expected – but that’s where the (Facebook) group’s advantage came in – when there were failures and things got a bit rough,” he said.
Five months on from a time when an average week consisted of endless nights in front of the television, his week now consists of two gym visits, two rides and at least one swim. However it was an encouraging workmate which lead Michael to his obsession with cycling; winning a $500 gift card from work, Michael was able to afford an $800 road bicycle.
“I was 17 the last time I rode a bike, let alone a racer – the first time I took it out for a ride, I did 1.2 km, and I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life, blowing $800,” he said.
“My legs were bursting with pain, the seat felt like it was up in orbit and nearly killed me, I almost fell over the handle bars and I couldn’t even get my feet in the stirrups.
“I tumbled off the thing like a tree when I went to put my foot down,” Michael said, imitating a falling tree in a forest.
However persistence paid off, and Michael soon after pulled off a 43km ride, amid training for his first triathlon at Hazelwood Pondage in February.
“When I found out people were coming to support me, I didn’t want to look like I was going to die when I crossed that line, so I really pushed myself,” he said.
“I pretty much lost it after that ride – I was with my wife and to be honest, I had a bloody good cry, it was the first time I actually achieved anything like that.”
Sister Paula Barbee, who turned out for Michael’s first triathlon with a 30-strong cheer squad of friends, family and workmates, recalled a feeling of disbelief when Michael crossed the finish line.
“He’s just become addicted to it; just to finish that race was a real stamp of approval for him that he was definitely going to overcome his obesity, you could tell on his face how big a deal it was,” Paula said.
Michael’s wife Michelle said his transformation from the ‘death bed’ five months ago was one of the most inspiring things she had ever witnessed, and had changed the couples’ entire outlook on life.
“He us to be so anxious and depressed, and now he’s just so motivated – and he wants to lose more… I would never had considered it going like this,” Michelle said, adding Michael’s efforts had only emboldened her own weight loss efforts, which she must juggle with running a full time home child care business.
“She is the single most positive person in my life, the amount of support and encouragement from her is unbelievable, but it comes naturally to her… now it is my turn to support her,” Michael said.