Local homebuilding executive Michael Rego surprised his wife and three kids on Thanksgiving in 2011 with a jarring proposition: He wanted to run a Turkey Trot 5K race.
The plan was a stunner because the 285-pound Rego hadn't been training. Still, Rego, vice president of the building division at Lakewood Ranch-based John Neal Homes, ran and finished the race, held in west Bradenton.
But it was the struggle of a lifetime. Rego's heart rate rose to 195 beats per minute, dangerously high for his weight. Adds Rego: “My wife could hear me gasping for air.”
Now, less than two years later, Rego is a new man. Or more specifically, he is 100 pounds less of a man. His weight hovers around 185 pounds and his waist size has shrunk from 42 to 30. The immediate past president of the Manatee-Sarasota Homebuilders Association, Rego, 50, recently shared his insights into his weight loss and newfound healthy lifestyle.
Rice and beans: A Tampa native, Rego played football and soccer in high school, where he also got into power weightlifting. He was scrawny, he says, but tough, and he played offensive line at Tampa Catholic High School. Yet good eating habits weren't part of his upbringing. His family, of Spanish heritage, ate and enjoyed many high-calorie meals of rice, beans and Cuban bread.
No fun: Rego realized how bad things were with his health soon after he was named director of construction operations at Lennar Homes in 2001. With a territory that ran from Tampa to Fort Myers, Rego sought to build camaraderie with the 70 employees he oversaw through playing in a recreational softball league. But he struggled to keep up. “I was so out of shape it really wasn't enjoyable,” says Rego. “I could hit and catch, but as far as running, I was dying.”
Big loss: The weight gain went from slow and steady to more pronounced in 2006 after Rego's dad, Rene Rego, died of a heart attack. Rego says he went into depression and taking care of himself fell to the side. “All of a sudden my best friend wasn't here anymore,” Rego says. “That had a real bad impact on me.”
Wake up: Rego's turning point initially began in spring 2011, when he saw his cardiologist, Dr. Erick Calderon. The physician put Rego's obesity in context. Says Rego, who has three teenage children: “He said, 'Michael, let me put it to you bluntly: Are you interested in walking your daughter down the aisle one day or do you want your sons to have to do it?'”
Turnaround time: Calderon's lecture resonated. But Rego didn't leave the office and head for a run. Instead, he says the first few months after the appointment was a mental battle that lasted until the Bradenton Turkey Trot. Says Rego: “I can't begin to say how difficult it was to get started.”
Regal rides: Two people in particular were key to Rego's weight-loss efforts, especially in the beginning. One was Sandy Birczak, who owns Spin Fit, a new business in Lakewood Ranch that offers cycling and fitness classes. The other was his friend and local entrepreneur Chuck Casagrande, a longtime cyclist. Rego developed riding routines with both Birczak and Casagrande — who were motivating forces. Now Rego rides about 200 miles a week on his Unovelo full carbon road bike.
Spin city: Rego preaches patience to fitness rookies, especially in the spin classes. “The first two weeks are grueling,” he says. “But after that your body gets used to it. Then it becomes addictive.”
Fry guy: Rego has overhauled his entire way of eating. He was big into anything with sugar and carbs in the bad old days. He was a big red meat eater, too. Now he regularly eats chicken, salmon and egg whites. His biggest weakness was and remains French fries. “I love French fries,” Rego says, “but I try to stay away from them.”
Thank heaven: Rego, however, says he will sometimes reward himself with a treat after he finishes a race or big workout. The prize: A Coca-Cola-flavored Slurpee from 7-Eleven.
Just rewards: Rego says his healthy lifestyle is reward enough, though it's a kick to run into people statewide he knows in homebuilding who haven't seen him in a while. They shake their heads in amazement, says Rego. Another motivation to keep the weight off, he adds, is for his family. Says Rego: “The main focus is to set an example for the kids.”