When he hit his thirties, Bryan Cliver’s sporty, athletic lifestyle hit a snag when he was diagnosed with iliotibial band syndrome, a painful condition which prevented him from running or doing strenuous exercise. While he was undergoing physical therapy, he also took a new job that required lots of travel, and he and his wife found much of their time taken up with helping their son, who had been diagnosed with autism, through some early-life challenges. No time or energy for exercise, coupled with a poor diet, led to Bryan gaining around 70 pounds.
“It was kind of a perfect storm of life events,” he tells Men’s Health. “It happens gradually, but it also feels like it happens so fast. I would look in the mirror and not recognize myself. I was just north of 220 pounds. I can make excuses, but it was basically a lot of bad choices on my part to do with diet and lack of exercise, pouring myself into my work and not taking care of myself. It was a lot of stress over four or five years, and my overall nutrition suffered.”
Bryan knew he had to make a change once his son started playing under-six soccer. “It was important to me that I be a part of that, and coach his team; I remember one day at practice, we were doing a warmup with the kids, and a few minutes into the warmup I could barely catch my breath and felt like I was going to have a heart attack,” he says. “I didn’t want to model that for my son, and I wanted to be able to play sports with him for years to come. I didn’t know how to make the change or how to start, but I knew in that moment I could not continue living my life this way.”
So he started small, setting himself the initial goal of being able to jog a mile, at any pace, without stopping. He began by walking every day. It was a slow journey from then on, and it was almost derailed a number of times by the nutrition side of things. “I got impatient, and I made some big mistakes,” he admits. “I tried diet pills that made me feel jittery and terrible, and cleanses that made me incredibly sick. I would see small results from those efforts, but I would drop 10 pounds and then end up gaining 15. After that, I spent some time doing research, talking to friends, putting my body into a calorie deficit, getting to grips with nutrition, and learning to do that in a healthy way.”
It took around 18 months to get back to the 160 pound range. Now aged 42, Bryan maintains his weight at around 150 pounds—and he and his wife now run several races a year.
“My wife was a major inspiration for me along the way,” he says. “She had been through her own health issues, including major back surgery, but she constantly led by example when it came to nutrition and exercise. Once I got more into running, the two of us started doing local 5K runs together, then a friend invited us to a Spartan Race, and from there we moved onto 10Ks, half-marathons, and marathons. It’s something in our marriage that we’ve been able to really enjoy together. We also found an amazing, supportive community at those events; they’re the best kind of people you can encounter. Every New Year’s now, we set ourselves goals of three to five new races a year, and we use those as a way to raise money for good causes that we’re passionate about. And psychologically, if you know you’re so many weeks out from a race, it’s a way of ensuring you stay sharp and continue with your training. And having this outlet for my competitiveness has been great for me mentally, as well as physically.”
He has since leveraged this passion into a business, launching the first franchise of boutique fitness studio STRIDE in the Midwest. STRIDE delivers treadmill interview training for any ability level, from experienced marathon runners like Bryan himself, to complete newcomers. In the wake of the pandemic, the studio eventually opened a full year later than intended, with full restrictions and occupancy limitations in place.
“We want people to know they’re coming into a safe environment,” he says. “One of my real goals was that when you walk through the door, no matter your age or current level of fitness, you know you’re loved, and you’re going to get an awesome workout that is tailored to you. It’s an intimidation-free space. I talk to people all the time who are like ‘I can’t, it’s not for me.’ And I’ve been there too, I didn’t think it was for me. If I can do it, anyone can.”
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