When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to give up and just let it all go. But what takes everything in you is getting back on track and refusing to surrender to hopelessness. When JT Klausutis’ wife Lori was met with a fatal accident in 2001, he shut himself from friends and society, developing unhealthy eating and living habits. “I let it all go. For five years, I didn’t socialize. I traveled. I worked. And I ate,” said Klausutis. When he started reaching the 400-pound weight mark (182 kg) he had a wake-up call. After developing a thin white ring around his cornea he went to see his doctor who diagnosed him with arcus senilis – in lay terms, a condition when fat and cholesterol stored in one’s eyes. There was no doubt that a heart attack or a stroke was waiting around a corner. “At that moment I had to admit that I was passive-aggressively trying to kill myself,” Klausutis remembers.

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Then, he got angry with himself and realized that this is no way to go. “‘You’re either going to kill yourself—just go ahead and do it—or you’re not going to do it.’ So that Monday, I went out and bought myself a mountain bike,” he recollects. First, it was baby steps, of course. Luckily, he had a lot of encouragement from his surroundings, including a neighbour who invited him to join her cycle club. Klausutis reminds himself of these beginnings with fondness: “It’s a running joke today that there were people literally ready to call 911 when I stroked out and died, but I made it,” ha laughs.

Credit: Amy Yanora

He cleaned up his act, including his diet, started exercising vigorously and cooking at home. And he swore off fast food forever. We can’t even imagine the amounts he must have consumed because there’s even a story related to this turn of events in his life. “True story, within months of me changing my diet, the Hardee’s, where I got breakfast every morning, and the local pizza shop, where I got dinner, closed,” Klausutis told Bicycling.com.

After nine months he was almost 100 pounds (45 kg) lighter and full of confidence. He started riding with some local clubs that were sceptic at first but he slowly worked his way up their speed. Still, it was kind of a problem to find a proper bike for him as he was still around 300 pounds (136 kg), but he eventually succeeded with help of some professional bike builders.

Credit: Amy Yanora

After being around bicycle enthusiasts, he kept hearing about this race called Leadville and decided that he would make it the benchmark of his life change. The first try ended up a fiasco – Klausutis was completely unprepared and was cut off at the race for not making the time limit. Although being under a dark cloud for some time he decided to try again in 2011 after a colleague crewed for him. But more bad news was to follow – he missed the time check by 14 minutes. More tears. More frustration. “We’re going home from this and I’m trying to keep my shit together, but there’s this monster inside me that is so angry,” he says.

He realized a bigger change needs to be made to his habits and weight so he plunged into it hard core. He was stuck at 275 pounds (125 kg) and knew he needed something more drastic. He embarked on a strict diet and exercise plan and lost 50 pounds over the next four months. And then another Leadville came. This time his determination and strong will paid off and he managed to make it under the 12-hour limit, even with a tire puncture he needed to fix and his friends make sure to be at the finish line to cheer him up.

Credit: Amy Yanora

“I went to grief counselling after my wife died. They told me to find a hobby…to find like-minded people who support you. That’s what you find when you do events like Leadville and Dirty Kanza” Klausitis says. Now he’s a big advocate of cycling and sports overall, but only in enthusiasm and not in figure anymore – he managed to drop 165 pounds (75 kg) and still claims that his journey isn’t at its end. Another story that proves that determination is the key to success in most things.

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