Matthew Leslie is a big man and not just in the business sense. Morbidly obese, in fact, and he has just had a health scare warning him to fix up, otherwise the consequences are grim.
Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, fear of blindness, foot amputation and kidney malfunction scared him into action.
“As a lot of people found out recently in the media, I was diagnosed a couple of months ago with Type 2 diabetes,” Mr. Leslie said as he prepared for his first gym workout in years, feeling like a kid going to elementary school for the first time and fearing the reaction of new classmates.
“In just a short span, I started to have a lot of complications with my foot and other symptoms associated with it. It scared me a lot and this year has already been a horrific one for people dying young in Cayman from health-related issues.
“I’ve been to more funerals this year than in my whole lifetime. Everyone was young, in their 30s and even 28, so it was a wake-up call for me.”
This led to his colleagues at the Cayman Islands Brewery coming up with a plan to tackle not only Mr. Leslie’s weight problem, but a few beer bellies of their own.
The 33-year-old entrepreneur decided to get together with the brewery’s commercial manager, James Mansfield, along with business friends from Premier Wines, Red Bull, Winner’s Circle, No. 1 Shoe Shop, Monster Nutrition, CITN and a few others to form Caybrew Goes to CrossFit.
For the next three to six months, they will be collectively attending CrossFit 7 Mile up to five days a week. Mr. Leslie intends to lose more than 100 pounds to come in at under 300 pounds.
For every pound he loses, his corporate sponsors will donate $10 each at the end of the first three months up to a maximum of $1,000, which goes to the Cayman Islands Diabetes Association. This could result in thousands of dollars raised.
“The money raised will go to education, supplies and all the good stuff they do,” Mr. Leslie said. “At the same time, we’re hoping to spread awareness to the islands that diabetes can affect all ages and we need to get our health in check.
“Just by doing the simple things like eating right and regular exercise, we’re able to reverse the effects of Type 2 diabetes. We need to move toward a healthier lifestyle and that’s something that CrossFit 7 Mile promotes, which is why we chose this venue to work out at. We’re pretty excited about it.”
Carl Brenton is the CrossFit 7 Mile gym owner and Chris Spigner is the head coach.
“We don’t like to bring people in and just throw them in, we like to explain the reasons behind the exercises,” Mr. Brenton said. “The biggest misconception we get is that people think they have to be in reasonable shape first to do CrossFit and it really is not.
“We have people like Jenni Bradwell here who was 265 pounds when she started and she has lost over 100 pounds. She was never athletic, yet she was third fastest female in the recent Olympic Day 5K.
“Matthew’s goal of losing 100 pounds in three to six months is an ambitious one and the key to doing that is consistency and proper nutrition. It doesn’t matter what we do in here, if he doesn’t eat properly, it’s just going to thwart everything we do.”
Mr. Brenton evidently knows what he is talking about; in almost three years since CrossFit 7 Mile started, the gym’s team has won the Latin Americas regional team championship twice and will be competing in the world finals in California again in a couple of weeks.
Just 10 years ago, Mr. Leslie was a buff 250 pounds and keen sportsman in rugby, soccer and beach volleyball. Even at school in Texas, he caught the eye of NFL football scouts.
But laziness, health issues and extensive work commitments later kicked in and, along with the availability and convenience of junk food, his weight ballooned to 500 pounds at his heaviest. At the start of Crossfit, he weighed in at 402 pounds.
“Now I’ve developed diabetes, it’s a wake up call,” Mr. Leslie said. “It doesn’t matter how successful your businesses are, what you do or how much money you make, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have nothing. We’re going to show that by having the right mind set, we’ll be able to see some results and hopefully that will encourage people to get involved.
“I support the Health and Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden’s initiative for a healthier Cayman and also the initiative by the civil service and other private businesses for their staff to get fitter.” He added: “Hopefully, we’ll turn some heads in government to see this as an example. CrossFit is going to be offering some great packages for people to get involved. Also, for people who do have diabetes, this will inspire them to get the right gear and start working out, including diabetic footwear and socks which No. 1 Shoe Shop specialises in, which I’m wearing.
“I want to get out there with the sporty guys and have some fun again, be able to wear shorts and take my shirt off without being embarrassed.”
After his first CrossFit workout, Mr. Leslie admitted he could not feel his legs and had to drink a sugar-free Red Bull and rest for a half hour in his car before finding the energy to drive home.
Nevertheless, he was inspired, and subsequent sessions have not been so exhausting and he is already feeling and seeing the benefits.
“The first CrossFit session was the most intense thing I’ve done in my entire life,” he laughed. “But I really enjoyed it. I loved the fact that the trainers were caring. They supported me the whole way, encouraging me. It’s hard but they made it easier.
“I was just amazed by how many muscles in my body I never knew I had until I snapped them. I really hope this encourages other people to get out there and actually make something of themselves, especially those with diabetes who may think it’s a death sentence on them.
“Here in Cayman, there is a lot of raw sporting talent and having diabetes shouldn’t hinder you. There are football players in the NFL who have diabetes.
“You’ve just got to be active. Take on a sport and go at it. You’ve just got to make those healthy life choices which I’m doing right now.”