Gus and Jewels riding the train at Griffith Park . Photo courtesy of Gus Ugalde.
Gus and Jewels riding the train at Griffith Park. Photo courtesy of Gus Ugalde.
Gus and Jewels riding the train at Griffith Park. Photo courtesy of Gus Ugalde.

Father’s Day is a time to reflect on the incredible responsibility that comes with fatherhood. Being a father is a new thing to me. I became the father of a beautiful baby girl on April 30, 2013 for the first time in my long life.

The upbringing of a new life is incredibly sobering and stark.  It surpasses everything I’ve ever thought important throughout all my years. But just a short year after having created the gift of life, I was told mine was in serious danger of coming to an end.

That staggering revelation came on another significant day of my life, Cinco de Mayo. It was on that celebratory day in 2014, my doctor told me I was going to die.

I have always been overweight. I was heavy as a child eating the savory food my mother and grandmother raised me on, and I couldn’t have been happier. The tortillas, beans and rice that are the staple foods in Mexican households can cause health problems – especially for someone like me who loved to eat.

The combination of the starchy food and little or no exercise was a recipe for disaster. Still, I was able to function with a great deal of ease for most of my adult life until I approached the age of 50.That is when I began to feel the effects of my poor diet more everyday, but still I did nothing to gethealthier. It was a classic case of denial in my part.

On May 5, 2014,  I went to see my primary care physician and everything changed. While we had discussed my obesity and need to exercise before, on this day it was very different. My readings on the blood test used to diagnose and manage diabetes, the A1C test, were a staggering 8.5. Normal readings should be about 5.0 to 5.5.  

I weighed 365 pounds that day, which was actually about 16 pounds lower than my all-time high of 381. My body, which had been fighting to stay healthy despite my destructive eating and drinking habits, was giving up. My doctor told me I had to go on an immediate low-carb diet, stop drinking alcohol, start exercising and begin injecting myself with insulin. I was also directed to see a dietician.

I was feeling pretty low about my future, but I decided to take control of my life at that moment because I had a daughter that was going to be counting on me. I had to stay alive. Still, old habits are hard to break. While reeling from the bad news driving home that day, I thought to myself that I was going to have one last hurrah before beginning my diet.

Naturally, I drove to Manuel’s El Tepeyac and had a Hollenbeck burrito. As I sat there, scarfing down the full-sized burrito, I laid out my plan for losing weight. That was 90 pounds ago.  It hasn’t always been easy. The day I started exercising I went to East Los Angeles College to walk the track.  I was able to muster-up a mile’s worth of exercise that took me nearly 30 minutes to complete.  I didn’t think I would be able to make it back to my car, but I pushed on.

Little by little, I got into a groove. Today I walk anywhere from 3 to 5 miles every other day. I am now a much healthier 276 pounds.  It is the first time I have been less than 300 pounds for 30 years.  My ultimate goal is to reach a very realistic 225 pounds, and then to maintain it. My A1C count is currently 5.5.  I am no longer on insulin, and I can move just about as well today as I could when I was in my 30s.

My daughter is the reason for my existence now. She has changed my life and I plan to do my best to ensure she doesn’t suffer the same fate I did. I plan to teach her it is okay to eat the chili rellenos, sopes and enchiladas but to balance those meals with healthy, vegetables and fruits.

She is already a member of the Weingart YMCA where I take her for swimming lessons. We frequently go on walks and take part in outdoor play so that she can learn the value of exercise, which is something I was never encouraged to do. Together, we will help each other live a long and healthy life.

Our bodies are remarkable.  Even after abusing my body for the most part of 50 years, it has responded. All it took was a few weeks of regular exercise to get it going again. While it can be harder to lose weight as one gets older,  I am a living example that it can be done.

With this new attitude, I hope to enjoy many more Father’s Days watching my little girl grow into a woman.

Gus Ugalde

Gus Ugalde is a print journalist and Boyle Heights native. He is a graduate of both Salesian High School and East Los Angeles College. With writing as his passion, he has had over 500 stories published...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *