Who says the gym isn’t a great place to meet someone?
Ronnie Brower and Andrea Masella, Syracuse, N.Y., natives, met in 2015 at Mission Fitness in their hometown. Both were on a long and dramatic weight-loss path. At the time, Brower had shed most of the 458 pounds he needed to lose for his overall health, and Masella was midway through her 120-pound weight-loss journey.
“My wife was training Andrea and they just caught each other’s eye in the gym one day,” Nick Murphy, owner of Mission Fitness, told Global News.
Two years later and a combined 578 pounds lighter, the couple is set to marry on May 13.
Brower’s story starts in 2013, when the then 28-year-old weighed 675 pounds and was told by his doctor if he didn’t do something about his weight, he’d die by the time he turned 30. At the time, he was unable to do basic things like put on his own shoes and was “completely dependent” on his family, Brower writes in a personal essay on the Mission Fitness website.
“My cousin went to high school with Ronnie and she saw that he had posted on Facebook something about needing to make a change or die. She reached out to me and asked if I would meet with him,” Murphy recalls.
Soon, Murphy realized that Brower needed an intervention — but he didn’t realize how dire the situation really was.
“When someone is almost 700 pounds, there are other people who are complicit, and I wanted to meet with his family and put everyone on notice that we were going to make a big change. That’s when I learned that he also had a pill and alcohol addiction,” Murphy says.
Brower had been self-medicating for years with food and alcohol, and he had developed an addiction to painkillers that had been prescribed to him for his knee. But much to Murphy’s amazement, Brower weaned himself off his addictions in five days and never looked back.
“All he needed was a vision for his life, a support system and direction.”
Murphy and his wife donated their services at no cost (he still doesn’t charge him) because Brower was on government support and wouldn’t have been able to pay a trainer. At first, he couldn’t do more than sit in a chair and lift his arms for roughly 30 seconds before getting winded. Eventually, one of Murphy’s clients donated an arm bike that allowed Brower to sit while exercising his arms. After 100 days, he had lost 100 pounds and was able to go into the gym.
“My wife and I went over there six days a week to work out with him until he could walk into the gym on his own.”
And that’s when Cupid struck. Masella had been following Brower’s weight loss journey on his Facebook page, 600 lbs to Success, and found him to be an inspiration. After exchanging glances in the gym, she reached out to him, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Their first date was at the gym. They played ping pong and basketball,” Murphy says. “I knew it was a match made in heaven.”
Brower and Masella are the kind of couple that Toronto-based nutritionist Kyle Byron would describe as “essential.” In other words, their shared fitness goals are essential not only to their individual health but also to the success of their relationship.
“When I meet with couples and I get the feeling that one of them is very interested in getting healthy and the other isn’t, I know it’s going to be unsuccessful.”
That’s why one of the first things he asks his clients is who they live with and what kind of situation they’re in.
“If the person doesn’t have a supportive partner, I know it’s going to be much more difficult,” he says. “I’ve seen relationships fall apart over this: if one person lets go of their health and gains a lot of weight, a lot of the time the other partner wants out of the relationship.”
He says the first step is to have an open and honest conversation about it, pledge to be supportive and be prepared to make sacrifices.
“You can keep junk food out of the house. If you want to eat chips everyday, keep them out of the house [to prevent sabotaging your partner’s health goals],” he says. “If someone can’t do that, they’re not a very good partner at all.”
The next step is to plan meals together. Even the most hardcore diet allows for a treat meal once a week, Byron says. Take that opportunity to indulge together, but then get right back on your goals the following day. The point is to align your nutrition.
“Competition is also a very useful tool in a relationship and you can use it effectively here,” he says. “If the dieter is trying to hit 20,000 daily steps and the other person has a more modest goal of 10,000 steps, make it a rule that the person who doesn’t hit their goal has to make the bed or do the dishes. It’ll make it fun.”
He doesn’t believe that both parties in a couple have to pledge to go hard or go home, either.
“One person can be into CrossFit and the other can be into yoga, but as long as you share the core values to eat healthy and be active everyday, it’ll work.”
Brower and Masella show the proof of that is in the (healthy) pudding.