Gray: From an early grave to an energetic life

Brent Koel of Presque Isle is a happily married father of six, grandfather of ten, supply chain manager and an elected official. He describes himself as energetic and involved. He has a thriving, busy life of family, work and a love of sports.

His life has not always been this rosy.

Not long ago, Brent was 519 pounds, had many health complications and was facing an early grave. His doctors told him if he did not change his lifestyle, it was only a matter of time until his full life would be cut short.

It was hard to accept. Brent cried, he got angry and then he found the strength to change. He had been on long road of declining health and was facing a dead end. How did he end up in this position?

Brent had not always been obese and unhealthy.

He stayed fit and active with 10 years in the Navy after high school. But an injury sent his life in a new direction. While working on a ship, he had an accident that led to a 3 1/2- inch long quarter bolt driving through his knee. After three painful surgeries, he was discharged from the Navy.

To him, it was the worst thing that could have happened. Since he was 17 years-old, he wanted to retire from the Navy. That was his plan. That was his dream. After discharge, he had to find a new job, a new trade and a new way of life.

He ended up in Detroit in a very sedentary job as a tool and dye machinist for 12 hours per day. Over the course of those five years, he inflicted the most damage to his health. He smoked, ate junk food and hated his job. Although he was happy as father, he was unhappy in himself. At more than 500 pounds, he was wearing a size 56 pant and a 5 XL shirt.

He could get through the day, but things became harder, more draining. He started to avoid things he loved. Simple outings like movies and sporting events were too hard, too taxing, so he simply stopped going.

Brent made the painful, urgent decision to heed his doctor’s warning and change his life for the sole reason of wanting to spend more time with his wife, kids and grandkids. After much research and discussion, he chose weight loss surgery. He was actually too heavy for theoperating table and had to lose 70 pounds through diet and exercise before surgery. He worked hard to achieve this and was anxious to return to the health club post surgery to help keep the weight off and lose more.

Brent chose gastric sleeve surgery, where they leave stomach intact but make the opening to stomach smaller, and the actual stomach smaller. It was drastic and the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life. But the end result was amazing, he said.

The surgery helped him take off the weight, but he has to do all the daily work to keep it off. For Brent, this includes five workouts per week at the health club. He rises at 4:45 a.m. to exercise before his workday begins. He’s a regular face in group exercise classes and has made many friend in fitness. His new lifestyle also includes four healthy meals per day. He said he doesn’t claim to eat perfectly, but he is a lot smarter about his choices and his portions are smaller.

These days, Brent is down 200 pounds. He plays with his grandkids. Where he used to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on in sports, he now coaches soccer and basketball in Rogers City. He runs up and down the field and participates in life, rather than observes it.

Brent has also been busy, but now he finds himself involved in the community in amore meaningful way. He enjoys his work, and is more effective now, as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Grand Lake and the township supervisor in Presque Isle Township. Fitness fuels him with energy and confidence. He has a new lease on life and, for the first time in decades, lives without restriction.

Trina Gray is the owner of Bay Athletic Club, a mother of two, a national presenter on fitness and wellness and a change agent in the community. Her wellness column appears monthly.