Jimmy Sévigny - Our favourite fitness freak

The man found his true calling by losing 300 pounds

By Jason Santerre

As far as personal trainers and health gurus go, what separates Jimmy Sévigny from the gym rats is that he was once obese. When a man who used to weigh a quarter of a ton looks you in the eye and says he knows how difficult it is to get in shape and stay there, his story carries more weight, so to speak.

"At eight years old, I knew I wasn't like the other kids," says Jimmy today. "I was the victim of bullying, intimidation." By the time he was 11 he weighed 250 pounds. "Bad self-esteem followed me every day, and then at 16, I started using drugs and alcohol. I weighed 400 pounds."

At just 19 years old, he was tipping the scales at 450 pounds. Mr. Sévigny remembers one night in particular when his Mom said she finally had good news. "She said she had made an appointment for me with the doctor so I could get on the list for gastric bypass surgery."

Mr. Sévigny remembers the ensuing meeting with the doctor very well. "I was 452 pounds. Right away, the doctor said, ‘We're putting you on the emergency list. By the way, it's a five-year wait."

Jimmy felt defeated. “I was finished,” he says. “How can I live two more years let alone five? There’s no way. Just taking a shower, the pressure from the steam would make my nose bleed. I thought, I’m dead anyway, so I’m going to do what I want. Not long after, I hit 500 pounds.”

Even his minimum-wage job at a local electronics store was in jeopardy. "My boss took me aside and he said, ‘Jimmy, the other managers want me to fire you.' I asked why, and he said, ‘Listen buddy, for months you've been missing one out of every two days. You don't smile. You don't seem motivated.' The only thing I had in my life was my job, and they wanted to take it away from me."

That night, Mr. Sévigny remembers walking home and trying to soothe his fear and frustration with enough junk food to cripple the average eater. Later, he tracked his heartbeat in bed. His resting pulse was racing. "I knew I had to change my life or I would lose it."

Of course, when you weigh 500 pounds, you can't just run 10 miles, skate circles around the rink, or play three sets of tennis. "I decided to swim. In my head, swimming was easy." That first day at the pool must have been a huge hurdle. Obese. Half naked. Everyone knows you and knows your shortcomings in life. It's a testament to the man's determination. "That first time at the pool, I thought, I will fail. I will fail for sure because everything has been a failure in my life."

But the sky didn't fall and he didn't die of shame or a heart attack. "I did two lengths of the pool at 50 metres each, and the ambulance was called. I was okay but my chronic asthma got the better of me. The day after, I was back at the pool."

It's that kind of perseverance and tenacity that makes Jimmy Sévigny the driven, intense, motivator that he is today. He had a dream of how his life should be and he made it a reality with hard work and a certain kind of stubbornness. "The first four months, I got a little stronger every day. It increased my self-esteem, and after four years, I lost close to 300 pounds."

It wasn't long before he was promoted from salesperson to manager at the electronics store where he had been asked to leave. "I was losing weight and felt like I could do anything. My self-esteem was soaring but I still had something inside of me, pushing me to help others, to give back."

He enrolled in a physical education program in the hopes of teaching school kids the benefits of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. It filled a void for a little while, but he still didn't feel like he was reaching his full potential, reaching enough people.

"I met with a public relations agency in 2007. They said I could be a great motivational speaker," recalls Mr. Sévigny. "But nobody wanted to hire a former obese person talking about his weight loss experience. So I started by giving free conferences to anyone who would listen."

In the meantime, he practiced his public speaking, dabbled in a bit of television, and then decided to try the ultimate in physical exertion: Ironman triathlons. Completing two Ironman events put him on the map. People suddenly started taking notice of the story about a man who used to way a quarter of a ton finishing in the top 10 per cent for his age group.

Bust a move

As far as Mr. Sévigny is concerned, there is always time and place for quick, effective workouts. Check out some of his favourite exercises. Try them at the park or at home. As you can see, you don’t need a lot of space or fancy equipment.

Push up

Place hands shoulder-width apart, keeping the body straight. Inhale, bend your elbows. Exhale and return to the initial position.

Box jump

Place feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale, flex your knees (squat) making sure to bring arms backwards. Exhale and jump onto the box.

Tricep dip

Place hands on each side of the body resting on a bench (or a bar). Inhale, bend your elbows. Exhale and return to the initial position.

Today, Jimmy has over 300,000 followers on Facebook. He produces workout DVDs, airs TV spots on healthy recipe ideas, and travels the country delivering motivational talks. What he's really known for are his "mega-workouts" that feature lights, music, pyrotechnics, and 5,000 people sweating and basking in the glow that is Jimmy. "People pay their ticket not to be entertained but to sweat," he says, a look of satisfaction on his face. "We have three trainers on the stage with me. One is responsible for the beginners, the other for intermediate, and the last for expert level. Every single person in that crowd of 5,000 is there for the same reason: To make positive changes in their life."

He's still working hard to get the province back in shape, one person at a time, but he knows that time is a precious resource. Taking time for family is top priority. "I see my little boy and I worry about him and his future if anything were to happen to me. It's natural, I guess, to start caring about the things that really matter. The last ten years, I've been giving and giving, so I need to take a little more time for my family. It seems that the more hair I lose, the more wisdom I have."

For more information on Jimmy's coaching services, conferences and events, visit jimmysevigny.com.


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