OTTAWA — The particular ride and the particular amusement park aren’t the important details.
They are details that, nonetheless, changed the life of Brent Thomas.
The 42-year-old from Ottawa, husband to Karen and father of two teenage daughters, will compete in the half-marathon Saturday as part of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend.
It’s a race he probably didn’t know about in the summer of 2011, weighing 315 pounds and living, what he calls, an unhealthy lifestyle after serving in the Air Force for 10 years.
But when he couldn’t squeeze himself onto an amusement park ride with his two daughters, Kirsten and Morgan, he knew something had to change.
“That moment was the worst feeling ever,” Thomas said. “I will never forget it. When I was told that I could not be on the ride because I was too big, I wanted to die. It felt like all eyes were on me and I was so embarrassed.”
Thomas turned that embarrassment into one of action. The following summer, Thomas underwent gastric bypass surgery. But it wasn’t an immediate solution.
“This isn’t a magic bullet for weight loss,” Thomas said.
So he started exercising. And watching his diet. His first foray into exercise was just a simple walk around Provena Mercy Hospital in Joliet, where he had the surgery.
“The first time walking after coming home from the surgery was with my family to a nearby park,” Thomas said. “I was hoping that I was going to be able to make it back home.”
He did and has since thrived in his running, along with his weight loss. Thomas is down to 195 pounds now, having lost 120 in the ensuing years since the episode at the amusement park he’d like to forget.
But one on hand, he’s glad it happened.
“My family is my rock,” Thomas said. “They are always there to support and encourage me. I could not have completed this journey without them. They seem to like having a more active husband and father.”
Last year, he ran his first marathon and finished all 26.2 miles. He’s also started competing in triathlons, planning to take part in two Ironman half-triathlons and a full Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Ky., later this year.
When he hits the streets of Champaign-Urbana this weekend to run the 13.1 miles making up the half-marathon, it’ll mark his first time participating in the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon.
“I am looking forward to that finish at Memorial Stadium,” Thomas said. “I have heard that the crowds are very supportive along the route. I can’t wait.”
Nor does he want to slow in terms of his competitive running or trying to reach others who may be going through some of the same struggles he encountered a decade ago.
“I have my life and health back, and I am doing things that I never thought I would do,” Thomas said. “It sounds cliche, but if I can do it, anyone can.”