From football player to 500 lbs: How a SC man is changing his life one Spartan Race at a time
By Manie Robinson, Sports Columnist, The Greenville News
They never say it directly. They do not need to. D.J. Maynard immediately knows what prompts the sudden change of heart.
“That’s happened to me probably about 10 time through the last five years," Maynard, a 26-year-old Golden Strip resident, said. "The job interview will go great over the phone, and they'll say, ‘Come in for a final, 30-minute interview.'
“I walk in, they look me up and down, and I see the look on their face change. And I walk out in five minutes."
Maynard is cordial, respectful and professional. He bookends his responses with, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir.” He possesses an array of skills and an inquisitive mind. He is willing to apply them with tireless effort.
Those attributes would make him a model employee for many companies, but, apparently, there is one thing about Maynard some potential employers could not look past. His size.
Maynard weighs more than 500 pounds. His broad, 6-foot-4 frame equipped him well for the offensive line on football teams at Hillcrest High in Simpsonville and Cole College in Colorado. Yet, after his playing days ended, he replaced his training regimen with harmful habits.
“I wasn't living the right way. I was staying out all night, eating late-night meals, partying. That don't mix good together,” Maynard said. “I was playing sports and everything throughout it, too, but I never lost the weight. You can't outwork a lifestyle.”
At his heaviest, Maynard weighed 625 pounds. The stares upset him. The reneged job offers hurt him. But they did not motivate him.
He needed a definitive goal and someone to push him toward it. He found that in Joe Tessari.
“We went to church together, and D.J. found out that I taught jiu-jitsu,” Tessari said, referring to the Brazilian martial art. “One day at church, he says, ‘I bet you couldn’t take me down.’ ”
Tessari is not a small man, but Maynard towers over him. Nevertheless, Tessari eagerly accepted the challenge. He welcomed Maynard to his gym and handed him a pair of gloves. Tessari advised Maynard that they should spar half-speed, but Maynard insisted Tessari hold nothing back.
“About 10 seconds later, I was on the ground,” Maynard recalled with a laugh.
“I threw a decent kick at him. He dropped his hands, and I threw a one-two,” Tessari said. “And we've been really, really good friends ever since.”
Tessari recognized Maynard’s struggles with weight. Instead of the customary meal plans and gym memberships, Tessari invited Maynard to train with him for Spartan Race, a series of demanding, long-distance obstacle courses that include rope climbs, spear throws, monkey bars, slippery walls and mud crawls.
“At first, I was like, ‘No, I think I'll pass on that,’ ” Maynard said. “But it was something I could work toward. We had about six months to train for the race. I think I dropped about 40, 50 pounds for it.”
Maynard arrived at the course in Winnsboro full of adrenaline, but in the first quarter-mile of the race, it clouded his judgment.
“There was an obstacle where we had to jump a 5-foot moat. The music was still playing, so I was feeling motivated and pumped,” Maynard said. “I jumped the first one and made it, but the second one was a little wider, and I split my leg wide open.”
Maynard persevered through that injury, but the sun set before he could complete the 13-mile course. Because he did not have a headlamp, he was forced to stop.
“It felt really nice just getting to 10 miles,” Maynard said, “but not finishing, it hurt me a little bit, because I dedicated so much time to it.”
That race was in 2012. The adrenaline wore off. The motivation faded. Maynard left the gym he joined. He regained the weight he lost.
“I’d have ups and downs,” Maynard said. “I’d do really well for a while, then have a bad day, which turns into a bad week, and then you've got to start all over again.”
The stares upset him. The overheard insults hurt him. But they did not motivate him.
Maynard did not commit to losing weight again until he committed to his wife, Alyssa. The couple married approximately 18 months ago. The prospect of parenthood quickly followed.
“We both have goals, to be able to raise a family one day and not get tired running around with them,” Alyssa said. “It's a big stereotype, that if you're over a certain weight or size, that, well, you just sit on the couch and eat potato chips all day and you're not going to do any work. But we're anxious to work, willing to work out, to stick to it and fight to get our weight under control."
Observing D.J. and Alyssa's commitment to transform their bodies, last year, Tessari convinced them to run a Spartan Sprint together. It was a shorter 5-mile course in Charlotte, but it was no less intense.
“When you're the slowest out there or the biggest out there, you ask, 'Why am I here?’ ” D.J. said. “But we counted to see how many people stopped and said, ‘Good job. Keep it up.’ We stopped counting at like 50 people. People kept passing. We just kept going.”
With the support of each other, their friends and complete strangers, Alyssa and D.J. finished that race. They were muddy and exhausted, but determined to keep going.
The Spartan Trifecta
D.J. aspires to complete the Spartan Trifecta, which includes a Sprint, a 10-mile, 30-obstacle Super and a 14-mile, 35-obstacle Beast. The Maynards train weekly with Tessari and a large group of friends. They support each other over obstacles, both on and off the course.
“You have those days where you look at the scale and you’ve lost weight and you're happy. You don't need the motivation then,” D.J. said. “But when the numbers aren't going your way and you don't feel the same after workouts, you need someone there to help you get through it.”
“It's been more of a blessing for me, I think, than for him,” Tessari said, “because I've got to be there with him and see him come all this way. It's amazing at his age, I wish I had been where he was. Maybe he's not in the physical shape that he wants to be in yet, but he's working on it. As far as his maturity level and where he's going in life, it's an awesome trajectory.”
D.J. lost approximately 100 pounds last year. He is on pace to lose another 100 this year. He aims to reach his target weight, 275, by his 30th birthday.
“I bought a belt last year, and I could barely get to the first notch,” D.J. said. “The other day, I pulled it out all the way and I had to add a notch to it. It's those little things that help your progress.”
On April 13, D.J., Alyssa, D.J.’s mother Dawn Maynard, Tessari and their Spartan family traveled to Lake Lanier, about 45 miles northeast of Atlanta, for the Sprint. The sun mercifully hid behind the clouds that Saturday morning as the team huddled at the start line to pray. They started the course with a loud cheer, a broad smile and a brisk gallop.
Tessari and other teammates sped ahead, completed the course, greeted their families and then jogged back to find D.J., Alyssa and Dawn. Tessari coached D.J and Alyssa through awkward hazards. Teammates supported them up steep hills. Strangers cheered as they conquered tall obstacles.
The couple ascended a 30-foot A-frame cargo net step for step. They splashed through the final water hazard hand in hand. They crossed the finish line together.
Fifty-five minutes faster than they did last year.
“A lot of the times, you get this thought that if you're plus-size, you can't do stuff,” Alyssa said. “It's just a mindset that you kind of get, but doing the Spartan race, doing the workouts, it's a reminder that we can do whatever we push ourselves to do. Nobody can put boundaries on us.”
Moments after the race, D.J. grabbed a sports drink and attempted to catch his breath. He stood proudly with his teammates. A mixture of sweat and satisfaction rolled down their faces. Their shirts were nearly covered with mud, but the Bible verse inked on their backs peered through.
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.”
More positive reinforcement
The Spartan Race grants D.J. more positive reinforcement than a scale ever could. He has a community of accountability. He has the incentive of perpetual personal improvement. He has nothing left to prove.
D.J. does not run these races for the folks who snicker at him in the supermarket. He does not run for the shortsighted employers who overlooked his character while staring at his size.
He runs for himself, for his wife, for his friends, for his future.