Nobody wants to receive bad news, but there are times when a bad situation can actually improve your life. Here, Walter Ortiz will tell his story on how upon being diagnosed with diabetes, he began his path to better health and fitness!
My name is Walter Ortiz. I’m 38 years old and an army veteran. I am a busy person. I am a pediatric home care nurse, and father of six. About a year ago, I was working full time while also taking a full college courseload to further my nursing degree. That meant a lot of long days and late nights. I was tired all the time, but chalked it up to being overworked and sleep deprived. Skipping breakfast and sometimes lunch, eating late after school, little sleep, lots of time spent sitting down at work and school, and six teenagers; to say that this was the perfect storm for illness would be an understatement.
I was diagnosed with diabetes in late July 2017. It came as a shock. My doctor told me that if I didn’t make some major lifestyle changes, I would only have about 10 years of life left. I was put on medication, including nightly injections of insulin, because my pancreas was in shock and had stopped producing its own insulin. I knew something had to be done.
I began researching diabetes and how to treat it, and there is a lot of information out there. The information was overwhelming at first, and I decided to take things slow and allow my body (and family) to adapt to one or two changes at a time, rather than trying to revamp my entire lifestyle overnight. This was the best way to make sure that these changes would stick. The first thing I did was change the food we ate. I replaced our bread and pasta with wheat varieties, and white rice with brown rice. I replaced my sugary snacks with peanuts, and tried not to eat after 9:30pm, and I only drank water and my morning coffee.
This worked, and after a month, I was taken off the insulin. Now it was time for another change, and that change was exercise. Running seemed like the simplest and most logical option. I tried going out for a short run, and felt no motivation at all. It hurt, I was tired, and it seemed pointless. I needed a short-term goal to work towards so I didn’t feel like I was running for nothing.
My son is a track and cross-country runner in high school. He’s run a few 5Ks, and always talks about how fast he did it and how he wants to go faster. I didn’t want to run with him at first because I thought I would be discouraged by his ability level compared to my own, so I initially assumed that 5K races just weren’t in my future. But in my research, I often came across plans designed to help new runners train for 5K races (I.E. “Couch to 5K”), so I began to reconsider. That’s when I found The Color Run – a 5K that didn’t time you and only celebrated health. A party afterwards that I knew my children and my wife would enjoy. This was it, this was going to be the goal I worked towards. This was going to be the race that celebrated the changes I had made in my life.I signed myself up, along with my wife and four of my kids. I knew that having made a monetary investment would be a great motivator for me to see it through. I tried one of the 5k training plans I had read about, but I just couldn’t stick with it. My kids tried it with me, and complained that the training plan included walking, and they only wanted to run. Oh, to be young and healthy again. I had begun to feel defeated when my wife offered to train with me. We started using our training time as “us time,” away from the kids. It became our daily “winding down” routine.
Three or four nights per week, my wife and I went to the local high school track and ran/walked using an app called Zombie 5k. I was starting to feel the difference. We went from running 15 seconds at a time to running a couple minutes at a time. I also noticed that my blood sugars were starting to drop and stabilize. I began adding some in-home bodyweight exercises on non-running days to help get me in shape, and to better control my blood sugar.
The day of the Color Run came, and we showed up to McCoy Stadium dressed in our white shirts. The kids wore tutus and my wife and I wore unicorn headbands. I was excited. I had told the kids that they did not have to run with me, but I would like them at the finish line waiting for me, so that we could party together. We had fun doing a little Zumba before the start of the run, and then made our way to the starting line. The energy was so upbeat as people were cheering and music was blaring. The DJ did a great job keeping everyone excited. Then the countdown and the word “GO,” and we started moving.
Quickly, my kids became a blur in the distance as they ran ahead, and all I could think was that I wanted to catch up to and maybe pass one of them. Yeah, The Color Run was non-competitive, but I had my own secret competition going on in my mind. I ran until I had to walk, but I didn’t stop once. I did end up passing one of my children, and caught up to a second one. Every time she saw me, she would sprint and I would have to run faster to catch her until she finally stopped at one of the color stations because a song came on that she liked, and I was able to catch her. We ran together for the rest of the race and when we got to the end, there were my kids, cheering me on. I crossed the finish line and felt so good about myself. I waited with my children for the rest of my family. The daughter that I passed came around and crossed the finish line. Then my wife came around the corner and we were all so excited that we went back onto the track (I don’t know if we were allowed to do that, but we were going to finish as a family) and ran around the field with her, and we all crossed the finish line together. That was the best part of the entire day. We made our way to the stage and just allowed ourselves to get caught up in the music and excitement.
After that day, I wanted to continue running and working out. We signed up for a family membership at the local YMCA, and started working out. We have continued to go to the Y, running on treadmills (winters in New England don’t really allow us to run outside), weight training, and stationary biking.
Since The Color Run in October, I have lost about 30 pounds and gone from a waist size of 38 to a size 33. I am now considered to have “tight control” of my diabetes, and my doctor says that if I continue my life the way I’m living, I could be taken off all medications and control my condition with just diet and exercise. That is a huge about-face from where my health was when I was diagnosed. My wife and I have run two more 5Ks and multiple virtual runs, and we are signed up for two obstacle mud runs this year. I have also signed up for the Tour de Cure to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association.
This experience has changed my life. I never thought that a scary diagnosis like diabetes could have such a positive impact on me. I have decided to study to become a personal trainer and health coach so that I can help others who are struggling with this and other conditions. This change in my life may have been a result of my diagnosis, but the motivation to start moving and changing my life came from The Color Run. Thank you.