ORM presents the series of stories on OCR Transformations. Runners and athletes whose mind body, and spirit have been altered through obstacle racing.
This month’s OCR Transformations features Juan Cabungcal. He has experienced a long journey that includes the ups and downs of bullying, depression, and then making a conscious decision to over come it all. This is his story…
Juan was never a very athletic person. He played sports growing up, but was not really good at any of them. Juan usually played the “place holder” positions, for instance: in baseball he was always stuck in right field, in football he would practice with the team and cheer on his brothers from the sidelines, and in tennis he was only used for scrimmages. Juan’s focus was primarily on academics and sports tended to come second. His favorite extracurricular activity was video games! Juan was a huge nerd growing up and he loved spending his free time in front of the television. Although he loved being an indoor video game geek, Juan excelled in Boy Scouts. He got his Eagle Scout rank at age 14 and loved camping and being out in the wilderness. Juan attributes his current love for the outdoors to his early experiences of camping and hiking. Unfortunately, receiving his Eagle Scout was the top of his outdoor/ active career growing up. His time was now captivated by video games and indoor laziness.
Juan’s main focus was academics. He was determined to get into a good college or study enough that he could ensure a career to support his future self. In 2009, he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. Now that Juan was in the “real world” his weight had become an issue. He had always been a larger kid growing up and could never recall a time he had a flat stomach. His weight caused him to be more introverted and shy. When he moved to Maryland for a job and did not know anyone, his shyness hindered his experiences of being able to meet new people. For the first few years, Juan would drive back home to Virginia every other weekend to spend time with his old friends instead of putting in effort to meet new ones in Maryland. The weekends he did stay in Maryland his time was spent in front of a computer playing video games, or in front of the television stuffing his face with whatever junk food he could find. In the meantime, he was not physically active at all. Before he knew it, he was 280 pounds and a size 44 pant. Juan dreaded simple pleasures such as sitting in a booth at a restaurant or even flying because he couldn’t fit in the seats properly. Living on his own wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Juan wasn’t healthy at all at this point; he would eat whatever he wanted, along with consuming several cans of soda a day. Depression set in because of his weight, which fed into his obesity cycle of eating his feelings.
THE FEAR OF “ALONE”
Juan had tried several times to lose weight. However, time after time he gave up. He would watch the infomercials about weight loss tips and magic pills and fall into a deeper depression. It had been years since his last girlfriend and Juan wanted to be in a relationship again. He wanted to make friends. He did not want to end up like others he knew that let their weight get the best of them and end up with diabetes. His biggest fear was to end up 30 something, alone, and possibly dead from his weight. Juan’s depression worsened because of his lack of human contact. He missed having friends around and his friends from Virginia rarely came to visit. He finally got tired of being depressed and alone. It was time for a change!
TAKING THE LEAP
Juan recalls when he finally decided to make a conscious effort to make a change, “It was January 2011. That year one of my best friends was getting married and she asked me to be her ‘Man of Honor’”. He did not want to be the biggest guy in the wedding party so he decided to lose weight for the big summer event. Juan began going to the gym, but like most, was intimidated by the weight room so he stuck to the cardio machines. He felt like he did not belong in the gym because he was so big and he felt like eyes were constantly on him in a judging manner. His routine was simple…jump on an elliptical or bike and then leave! He would stay clear of the treadmill because running was too painful for his body.
A big push came from one of his friends who realized Juan was trying to work towards the goal of losing weight for his friend’s wedding. His friend asked him to sign up for a 5k with him and his fiancé. The run was scheduled for a month before the wedding and Juan thought that his recent efforts would help prepare him for the event. Not knowing the details of the race, Juan decided to sign up. Once his friend had them registered he shared a video with Juan of the event they were signed up to do…the Warrior Dash! His stomach sank the instant he watched people jumping over fire, crawling under barbed wire, and running through mud. Doubts ran wild in his head of not being able to complete such a crazy race. However, Juan made it his goal to finish that race and he began training like never before.
In a matter of months he had dropped from a size 44 pant to a size 40 by time of the race. Come race day, Juan was a ball of nerves. He had no idea what to expect…just the hope to finish. Although he walked most of it, he gave it all he had. His muscles ached and his lungs burned, but he made it over every obstacle and across the finish line. He even managed to finish in under an hour! The feelings he experienced after that first race were like none other. He was hooked!
BIT BY THE BUG
Juan was bit by the running bug. He had completed his first OCR event and now he wanted to prove to himself he could do more! The same friend that got him to do the Warrior Dash convinced Juan to run a 5k RunForYourLives Zombie race later that same year. He then wrapped up his first running season with a 10k road race on Thanksgiving Day. Some of his other friends heard about his new found love for running and they sent him links to events to try. The events included things like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. Juan remembered looking at the links thinking, “Nope! There is no way in hell you’d ever catch me doing a 10-miler course with ice water and electricity”. Little did he know what his future would hold.
Juan’s training became more consistent after his first race. He also experienced a confidence boost from completing the event. This led to him finally venturing out and making friends in Maryland. One of his first friends he made took Juan under his wing and they quickly became gym buddies. Juan’s new friend was able to introduce him to the ways of the gym and made him realize that it wasn’t as scary as he made it out to be. He was also able to make new friends through his network. Juan became more comfortable with himself and became less and less shy. Instead of spending his weekends traveling back and forth to Virginia to hang out, he began signing up for more races and hanging out with his new crew. The following year, Juan completed his first Spartan Race Super in Leesburg, VA. Since then his races per year has grown exponentially.
The most memorable event for Juan is a toss-up between his 2013 Spartan Race at Wintergreen and the 2013 Spartan World Championships at Vermont. 2013 was the first year for Spartan in Wintergreen and it was also Juan’s first attempt at a trifecta. Going into the event he felt confident and prepared for what was to come. However, he was wrong. Wintergreen was a different animal all together than what he had been used to. The course challenged Juan in ways he didn’t think were possible. On his last mile and last water station…he contemplated giving up and handing in the towel. That was, until he say Operation Enduring Warrior coming down the hill behind him. That sight made him pick himself back up and push forward to the finish line. He ended up crossing the finish line in 8 hours and 44 minutes. In 2014 he went back for redemption and finished three hours faster!
The 2013 Spartan World Championships in Vermont was another extremely memorable event for Juan. He credits his efforts to finishing Wintergreen that same year to his ability to finish in Vermont. He remembers his pace being a few hours ahead of schedule than Wintergreen, but he hadn’t taken the extra mileage into consideration. He was nowhere near prepared for the adventure of Vermont. The morning of the race he had only eaten a granola bar with plans to eat a large meal after the race…10 hours later; Juan was still on the course. Nightfall had set in and headlamps were required to finish. Just as he began begging a volunteer to allow him to finish the course with no headlamp, a group of runners came by that had lights. The volunteer allowed him to go on if he promised to stay with that group. The motivation of finishing, not getting lost in the woods alone, and wanting a real meal forced him to find his inner strength and finish.
Both of those experiences were a huge eye opener for Juan. He knew that if he wanted to continue in the sport of obstacle racing he could no longer just “wing it”. He had to train, he had to prepare, and he had to do it with a purpose. Coming that close to not finishing two events with a DNF motivated him to get his physical endurance where it needed to be…he has never DNF’d and never plans to.
HATERS GONNA HATE
Juan cannot contribute his success to just one source. He stays motivated by watching years of success of his friends and their weight loss journeys. They have helped him believe that he is capable of anything. The friends and family that have supported him over the years have played a crucial role in his success and continue to drive him even when he thinks he can’t take another step. He even contributes his success to the doubters and haters who he has encountered throughout his journey. Proving them wrong continues to put a smile on his face. Good, bad, or indifferent, Juan knows that every experience has helped motivate him to push harder and prove people wrong. Even though he doesn’t have a “runner’s physique”, he can still accomplish his goals.
More so, social media has played a huge role in his success. The friends and motivation he has found through Instagram and Facebook has helped inspire his journey. Using social media for accountability has helped him not only grow his followers, but also to realize that his journey motivates others. He wants to push himself to the point of being able to start on the same line as the elites he looks up to and admires. OCR has truly become a passion for Juan and it fuels his lifestyle to become better every year.
CURRENT WORKOUT PLAN
Juan’s current work out regiment includes Beach Body programs. He managed to lose 15 pounds last year with one round of T-25. Currently, he is doing Insanity Max 30 during the week and saves the weekends for long runs. His biggest opportunity is his cardio stamina for races. He usually only lifts weights at the gym a few times a week. However, he is looking to up his weight lifting in order to conquer the difficulty of races on his schedule. Juan’s starting weight was 280 pounds and a size 44 pant. His current weight is 210 pounds and a size 34/36 pant.