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  • Writer's pictureRoss Cole

Circles on Dirt- An Introduction

My name is Ross Cole Jr, and I write this as half the man I was at the beginning of the pandemic- literally. On January 20th, 2020, I weighed in at 467 lbs. Today I max out at a svelte 220 lbs, something I had previously never thought possible. This journey began with two massive motivators- my health, which was declining with asthma and my morbid obesity; a lifelong desire to compete in mountain bike racing. For the vast majority of my life, the idea that I would be physically capable of competing in such a demanding sport felt like a joke. In the last year and a half I have conquered many of the greatest hurdles in making this dream a reality. I am now looking to open the next chapter in my life by training at a semi-professional level to compete in mountain and gravel bike races across the US alongside my brother, Tyler, who has been my biggest supporter throughout my weight loss. I am a very private person, but I have had success in an area in which many struggle, and I feel a responsibility to share my story to show others who struggle with their weight that even after countless failed diets and abandoned workout plans, it is possible to attain your goals. By no means is this whole story pleasant, but neither is being morbidly obese.

Like many people, I have struggled my entire life with my weight. I was a big kid that became a bigger teenager, and this continued as my obesity worsened into adulthood. I dieted, I worked out, and I was prescribed various medications to help me shed pounds. Invariably, these ventures ended in failure and my weight would continue to rise. In 2017, my incredibly supportive grandmother and parents pitched in to buy a mountain bike that would be able to hold me. This was not easy, as at the time I was over 500 lbs. Your average bike likely wouldn't cut it, but we found a mountain bike that seemed like it would do the job. I did a few short rides, but eventually the bike found a corner in the garage and stayed there for the next two years. In 2019, my grandmother unexpectedly passed away at home. Among the flood of emotions that came with losing someone who had been there for me my entire life, I became acutely aware of the stress I had put on my body over decades of obesity and poor dietary choices. I started looking seriously at the way I had handled my previous weight loss attempts, and realized that I had sabotaged myself each time. That was when I decided to begin strict dieting and exercise regimens, which revolved around rides on that mountain bike. The first time my tires hit a trail changed the course of my life. The experience of doing something that had seemed so impossible for my entire life inspired me to make real changes. Those rides became more frequent and I dropped weight, but it quickly became apparent that knees weren’t built to hit trails at 500 lbs+. This was the point that I began exploring surgical options. I would have loved to lose all of this weight without any help, but I had a decision to make between my pride and my life. From a maximum weight of 596 lbs, I reached 467 lbs prior to surgery. After dozens of doctors visits, interviews, and an incredible amount of physical activity, I walked into the surgery prep department of Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu and my life changed forever.

I went into surgery in the early morning of January 20, 2020 and emerged feeling expectedly horrible. My heart rate wasn’t quite as stable as my surgeon would have liked, but at that weight the heart is under incredible stress. The first time I tried to walk around the recovery ward my legs almost gave out and I was overcome with nausea. Despite hopes that my condition would improve, I continued to show concerning symptoms over the next twelve hours. The next morning my surgeon broke the news that I was being moved back to the OR for exploratory surgery to repair whatever had gone wrong. I was advised that I would be under for around two hours and should be out of surgery in the early afternoon. Despite my confidence the day before as I prepped for my initial surgery, I was absolutely terrified to return to the OR. My mom was there with me and a very close friend who had undergone the same procedure a few years earlier was on the phone to provide words of support.

The next thing I remember is waking to a clock on the wall that read 9pm. I looked up and saw two blood bags hanging above me, one already emptied and the other working its way in. I had been suffering from internal bleeding and had lost well over two liters of blood by the time they had repaired the damage. Unexpectedly, I felt far better following that surgery and by the next morning my condition had improved dramatically. I was able to return home the next day to begin the long and difficult healing process. RnY gastric bypass surgery substantially changes the path your food takes, and a major part of the healing process is learning to eat again. Eating healthy by that point should be easy, as the lead up to surgery requires incredibly strict dieting, activity thresholds, and education on what your life will be like after surgery. In reality, eating healthy is only part of the equation. Your newly decorated digestive system has a million quirks that can leave you with pain, nausea, and crazy heart beats until you learn what your body wants and what it doesn’t. It is a constant learning process. I’m over a year and a half out of surgery and from time to time I’ll still eat a meal that leaves me out of commission for the next four hours or so.

A month after surgery, my surgeon gave me the go ahead to ride some very tame trails on my bike and things changed again.

My brother and I began hitting trails in the nearby valley three times a week, and my weight began shrinking faster than ever. It was at this time near the end of February 2020 that I returned to work at my 9-5 desk job, no more prepared for what was to come than anyone else on the planet. As soon as the pandemic began, my doctors advised me that they wanted me out of the office and to take every precaution possible. I had just gone through two physically traumatic surgeries and my risk factors were increased by asthma and obstructive sleep apnea. Near the end of March, I left the office for what would end up being the last time. As the pandemic worsened, I did the safest thing I could- I rode the empty trails near our house with my brother. Day after day, we would alternate routes on the trails and our neighborhood roads, finding new ways to get the distance we were looking for. My weight continued to drop and things continued getting worse in the world. My doctors insisted that I stay out of the office, and money began to dry up. After months of economic decline, we realized that Hawaii was no longer a viable home, and my family began to pack up our life in Hawaii to begin another chapter somewhere else.

In November of 2020 we took off from Honolulu on a one way trip to LA, dogs and bikes in tow. We had found a home in Pueblo, CO, but due to the still worsening pandemic, we could not find an airline that would fly our dogs any farther than LA. We were left with one option- to road trip across the US to our new home. My parents had shipped their truck ahead, so upon landing we immediately began our 1100 mile trek across the southwest. Along the way my brother and I were able to ride trails in Las Vegas, Cortez, and the “Mecca of mountain biking” Moab, UT. I was riding at my lowest weight ever, and holding my own on the most technical trails I’d ever put my wheels on. Until this point, racing still felt like a far off dream; the kind of “someday” plans we all make. Suddenly, that wasn’t the case. I realized I may actually be capable of reaching the fitness to race.

Today, I am 220 lbs and beginning my training to enter the world of mountain and gravel bike racing. I want to share this journey in the hopes that someone else will make the decision to change their life for the better. Tyler and I will both open our racing careers at the inaugural Rad gravel race in Trinidad, CO on October 2nd of this year. We intend to share our challenges and victories in this new adventure and will keep you all updated along the way. Once we're able to get hold of a GoPro, we’ll be posting video updates of training rides, bike adventures, and fitness progress.

If you are interested in helping support this adventure, please consider sharing my story, following us on instagram @circlesondirt , and checking out our GoFundMe. Thank you!

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May 25, 2021

So proud of you Ross!! We definitely want to follow your journey!! XOXO

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