Becoming a father was all it took for Erik Fuentes to make a change.
Before that, weight gain had not affected his self-esteem. “It just kind of escalated,” Fuentes said. “I was sedentary. I wasn’t active anymore.”
Fuentes worked a lot, traveled for his job and frequently ate out. At his peak, he weighed 315 pounds. He wore size 46 pants and a triple-extra-large shirt.
“But I was never body conscious or had self-confidence issues,” he said. “I never thought I needed to lose weight to look better. My catalyst was finding out we were pregnant.”
Growing up, Fuentes enjoyed long walks in the woods with his father, going backpacking on outdoor adventures.
“Now we were going to have a child, and I wanted to be able to do the same things with my kid,” he said. “But I knew I couldn’t do it at that size. At the time, I was getting out of breath just tying my shoes.”
Fuentes did not want his weight to be a limiting factor in what he could do as a father. At the same time, he wanted to do something with his own life that could inspire his child.
“I wanted him to think that he can touch the top of the world,” Fuentes said. “I want to be there to help him along the way. I want to inspire my kids and show them I can do anything.”
Because if he can do it, so can his children.
He decided to start running, a hobby his wife, Stephanie, already enjoyed — Fuentes proposed to her in Cinderella’s Castle, when she was competing in the Walt Disney World half-marathon.
“She helped me start running, but she was much faster than me,” Fuentes said. “I’m a competitive person; I didn’t like that at all.”
He pushed himself to build up his speed and make healthier choices. At the same time, he began modifying his portion sizes.
“Diets don’t really work for me,” he said. “I decided to just make better choices.”
Fuentes would still go out for pizza but would limit himself to a couple of slices. He could still have a burger but would eat only half. He eliminated soda, opting for water instead.
He switched breakfast tacos for yogurt or oatmeal and added vegetables to his dinners. “It was a lot of trial and error — and a lot of research,” he said.
Then he met some neighbors who invited him to join them for bike rides. “I vividly remember my first 10-mile ride,” he said. “I was so exhausted that I just collapsed in my living room.”
That competitive mindset, however, kicked in. Fuentes was determined to try it again. “That 10-mile ride became a 12-mile ride and then a 15,” he said. “I was running and cycling. I started to see my weight fall.”
Before long, a friend asked Fuentes to join him for a triathlon. “I was like, ‘Sure … What’s a triathlon?’” Fuentes recalled with a laugh. “He told me, ‘You just have to learn to swim.’”
Fuentes went online to learn techniques, then jumped into his neighborhood pool and started swimming laps. In 2015, he competed in his first sprint triathlon, a short-distance competition that usually consists of a 5k run, 20k bike ride and 750-meter swim.
At the time, Fuentes weighed about 290 pounds. “It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life,” he said. “But crossing that finish line was epic.”
Fuentes was hooked. He joined the Hot Mess Triathlon Club, and signed up for another sprint triathlon and then doubled the distance for an Olympic triathlon — a 1.5k swim, a 24.8-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.
In 2016, he competed in the Half Ironman in Galveston; the following year, he completed the full Ironman in Kentucky.
In just two years, he had lost almost 120 pounds, weighing in at 197 pounds. “I literally trained my butt off,” Fuentes said. “It was all a lifestyle change and healthy eating.”
Fuentes has now competed in four Half Ironman Triathlons. He was supposed to compete this year in the Galveston Half Ironman, but it was postponed until next November because of the coronavirus. Next year, he plans to compete in the full Ironman in The Woodlands.
Fuentes continues to set and achieve goals. He placed third in a race and stood on the podium with his award. He also returned to and halved his time from his first race, and competed in the Houston half-marathon in 1 hour and 47 minutes.
“Competition gives me drive and keeps me going,” he said.
In addition, Fuentes
became a run-club coach for Life Time Sugar Land, after becoming friends with the health club’s run coordinator, Megan Stevens, who also serves as an endurance coach at Mind Right Endurance. The two connected on a bike ride.
“We just clicked right away,” Stevens said.
She found his commitment to cycling commendable. “He just kept showing up,” Stevens said. “He had this passion and drive I’d never seen before.”
They trained together for the full Ironman in Kentucky, and later Stevens brought him onto her team at Life Time. “I wanted to hire him because he has a big heart,” she said.
Fuentes saw it as his opportunity to continue to help others with fitness. “I make run plans for them and use all the stuff I learned from my own journey,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for me to help inspire more people. I want to help them reach their goals.”
Stevens said that Fuentes has a unique know-how. “People look at him, knowing nothing about his story, and think it’s impossible to push those speeds,” she said. “He’s like, ‘This is where I was, and this is how I got here.’ It’s unbelievable, and everyone just loves him.”
Fuentes said he enjoys sharing with others his techniques for getting in shape. “I know what it’s like to try to run at 300 pounds,” he said. “I know what it’s like to roll out of bed with zero energy and zero motivation. I know what it’s like — and what it takes to overcome that.”
He tells those interested in weight loss that taking it slow is key. Instead of worrying about pace on a route, he recommends simply putting one foot in front of the other.
“It’s all about consistency,” he said. “The more consistent you are, the more your body will learn. Then, you are able to start achieving your goals.”
Fuentes also suggests finding motivation outside oneself. “For me, it was my kids,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding something bigger than yourself to motivate you.”
Fuentes is now the father of two — 5-year-old son Reid and 2-year-old daughter Rielyn . He can outpace his wife and continues to train seven days a week.
He loves to see his children being active. “All that sacrifice I went through, all of that pain, I’m seeing it pay off in my kids,” he said. “They want to run and to play. They’re so energetic. There’s no way I would have been able to keep up with them before. I have a hard time even now — and I’m an endurance athlete.”
Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.