Ryan “Mac” McDonald isn’t afraid to push his body to the limit. The 38-year-old is in training for two extreme sporting events: this month, the Hotter’N Hell Hundred century bike ride in Wichita Falls, Texas, and in November the Score Baja 1000, a thousand-mile motorcycle race through the searing heat of the Mexican desert.
The jovial Texan calls himself “an ordinary guy living out extraordinary adventures.” But just a few years ago, Mac was pushing himself in an entirely different direction.
Weighing over 500 pounds, he avoided everyday tasks like walking into the grocery store, and shied away from simple pleasures like concerts, sporting events and family vacations.
“I had pretty much resigned myself to being a really fat man the rest of my life,” he wrote in an entry on his blog, Relentless Road.
Outwardly happy and confident, Mac privately worried about not being there for his wife, Jessica, and not seeing their two children grow up.
Mac’s battle with food began in his early 20s. Though a promising high school football player, he never really enjoyed exercise, and became sedentary when he retired from the sport.
“That’s when the weight started coming on,” he told the Daily News. “I was probably 270 when I was playing, then all of a sudden 300 happened, then 350.”
Courtesy of Ryan McDonald
Ryan ‘Mac’ McDonald near his heaviest weight, 530 lbs. Through diet and exercise, he has dropped around 300 lbs. in the past three years.
His meals consisted of hamburgers, pizza, french fries, chicken fried steak and frequent visits to all-you-can-eat buffets, washed down with his “nectar of the gods,” Dr. Pepper.
Loved ones urged him to change his ways, and occasionally, he would try. After friends bought him a gym membership for his 25th birthday he went for a walk on the treadmill – only to see smoke rising from the machine after two minutes.
“I was then an almost 450-pound guy. The treadmill just wasn’t built for me. But I used that as an excuse to stop trying,” Mac recalled. He kept gaining, and eventually tipped the scale at 530 lbs.
Then in 2009 came a major wake-up call: necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacterial infection that took hold of his body near his heart. Doctors told him his weakened immune system due to poor health made him vulnerable to the disease, which kept him in the hospital for two weeks and left him with permanent heart damage.
“It was kind of like a zombie disease,” Mac said. “It eats away your flesh. It was nasty, it could have taken me out, but we got it in time.”
About a year later, Mac decided it was time to try weight loss again. Slowly and determinedly, he set out to lose the weight that kept him from leading the adventurous life he craved.
He started with his old enemy, the treadmill. That time, he lasted six minutes. The next time he did 10.
Courtesy of Ryan McDonald
Mac in June 2013, at 230 lbs.
“I wanted to see what happened,” Mac said. “So many times in the past I’d said ‘I’m gonna do this, here are my goals, yay me’ and get stopped. [This time] I went in with the mindset of ‘I need to be a little bit healthier.'”
Next, Mac plucked the “low-hanging fruit” from his poor diet, banning two of his worst habits: fast food and soda. He started keeping a food diary of everything he ate, and began chronicling his struggles and successes on his blog.
“I haven’t done any fad diets,” he said. “Just watching what I eat, and staying on the outside of the grocery store,” where the unprocessed foods are typically located.
“But you know what else is on the outside of the grocery store – that little cookie stand!”
Mac also allowed himself cheat meals, or as he came to think of them, “treat meals.” At first, he had four or five treat meals per week, eating whatever he wanted at restaurants. Now, he says, “I’m down to one or two treat meals a week. On Fridays I go to Subway – it’s pretty sad that Subway is the treat meal!”
As his body grew fitter, he upped the ante with his workouts. Spin classes turned into a run-bike duathon, then a sprint triathlon. Then he began contemplating his childhood dream of motorcycle riding – something his 500-lb. self could never have tackled.
Courtesy of Ryan McDonald
Mac – with wife Jessica and children Libby, 5, and Matthew, 3 – now runs for fun and only feels the need for one or two ‘treat meals’ a week.
On a motorcycle, “you’re using your body as a shock absorber,” Mac said. “Your legs and your core, pretty much your whole body, is having to work to keep that machine straight and where it needs to go. For prep, that’s where biking came in.”
Today at 38 years old, Mac hovers just above 230 lbs. He feels like a new man, but he hasn’t forgotten how he got here.
“I take full responsibility for putting myself in this situation,” Mac said. “It wasn’t, oh there are too many fast food commercials on TV, or too many 32-oz Doctor Peppers.
“It took me 36 years to put 530 pounds on. Even though it came off fast in the big picture, I can’t just expect it to reverse.”
As part of his races, Mac raises donations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth to combat childhood obesity. He continues to share his journey on his Facebook page – and as others discover his story, he wants to tell them that change is possible.
“There are a lot of hurting people out there. I read some emails that just broke my heart, about giving up,” he said.
“My faith has helped me a lot – that I know God has a plan for my life. Even though I derailed it 20 years ago, maybe the new plan is, share what has happened here, to have my story help someone else in the same situation.”
If you’d like to support or sponsor Mac’s efforts against childhood obesity, click here to read more.