Tinker man takes control of his life, determined to live better

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Dave Thomas is a new and improved man who is making consistent strides to better his life. In four years, the 58-year-old type 2 Diabetic gained a new lease on life, began bicycling and shaved off 75 pounds. He continues his pedal to a healthy lifestyle despite a recent type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. On June 23, Mr. Thomas will put his skills to the test when he participates in a charity bike ride.

The decision to change his lifestyle did not happen overnight, nor did it happen with a type 2 Diabetes diagnosis. But, it did happen when he received a new and free bicycle. Since that fateful day roughly four years ago, Mr. Thomas said a change occurred and he doesn't regret it for a second.

"Since taking on a healthier lifestyle, I feel 500 percent better," said Mr. Thomas, Defense Logistics Agency Oklahoma City E-3 Material Management Team chief. "I should've got started earlier. I should have taken it more seriously as soon as I found out."

Four years ago, Mr. Thomas lived a sedentary life similar to many Oklahomans. He frequently ate at fast-food establishments and moved around only if it was necessary. He had already been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes, but didn't see a cause for concern.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when a body does not produce or correctly use insulin, a hormone needed to change sugar, starches and other food into energy. There are two prominent kinds of Diabetes, type 1 and type 2.

Type 1, an immune disorder, occurs when "the body attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas." Consequently, the body is unable to produce enough insulin and the sugar stays in the blood where it harms the other organ systems, according to an online diabetes information website.

Type 2 occurs when the body either does not produce enough insulin or its cells ignore it, according to the same website.

Oftentimes, type 2 is diagnosed when a person reaches adulthood and can be attributed to lifestyle, whereas type 1 is typically passed through genetics.

"I really didn't understand all the implications from it and I didn't take care of it that well," he said. "I ate whatever was quick and easy; I never sat down and thought about what I was eating, I just needed something to eat, just needed to go grab something."

One summer day, Mr. Thomas attended a men's conference at his church and won a mountain bike in a raffle.

"I thought, 'You have got to be kidding me,'" Mr. Thomas said, laughing. "But, I thought it was something I could do. I was at that point in my life when I knew I had to do something. I was way overweight due to my eating and lack of exercise, and that opened the door for me to go do something and I didn't like to do long walks in the neighborhood."

The next day, after work, Mr. Thomas took the new bicycle to the roads at Draper Lake in south Oklahoma City and attempted to go for a spin. He lasted roughly three miles. Mr. Thomas said he gradually worked his way up to maneuvering the dirt trails.

After approximately six months, Mr. Thomas said he realized mountain biking wasn't for him, but he could probably do road bicycling.

"I took the mountain bike out and tried to do stuff I shouldn't have -- I was too old and too big -- and there were too many face plants over the handlebars and I hit too many trees," Mr. Thomas said.

Three years ago he purchased a road bicycle and has spent his time gradually conquering small goals in pursuit of a big one: achieving a healthier lifestyle.

"At that point, I was ready to make some changes. So, I started studying up on nutrition and trying to stay away from the fast food and junk," Mr. Thomas said. "The key was finding something I like to do. I don't like to lift weights. I like being outdoors, but I don't like running."

Riding a street bicycle was the secret for Mr. Thomas. With the exercise came the desire to eat better. Fast food as well as potato and gravy-based meals fell by the wayside. He introduced himself to salads and vegetables. Mr. Thomas soon saw the fruits of his labor; he started dropping the weight.

These days, Mr. Thomas rides approximately 30 miles after work for fun, and will commute the 15 miles to work two to three days a week via bicycle. Plus, he also participates in charity bike rides.

One of his co-workers has also noticed his transformation.

ReNaldo Lemons, a B-52 Stratofortress Services planner with the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Group, who works just down the hall from Mr. Thomas in Bldg. 2136, said he's known the cyclist for roughly two years and has seen him struggle with his weight.

"Once he focused on what he had to do, it has been full-steam ahead," Mr. Lemons said. "I'm very happy to see him making strides in a healthier life. I believe anyone can do it, but only if they just decide to do it."

But, Mr. Lemons said the decision to be healthier cannot be a temporary one.

"Dave, make it a lifetime commitment," he said. "Continue to work on 'you.' I'm proud of you, my man."

Despite his accomplishments, Mr. Thomas has encountered some bumps along the way. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes.

But, Mr. Thomas hasn't let it get in the way of his overall goal.

"You have to set small goals that are attainable and then keep stretching yourself a little bit. Celebrate reaching those small goals," he said. "This isn't about anyone else and to me it's not a competition, except between me and myself.

"It's a matter of what I have to do to make myself feel better and to make sure I'll be around to see my granddaughter grow up," he said. "It's never too late to start."