Thanks to tabloid and reality TV, we know that people are sometimes prone to self-destruction. Watching it can be morbidly entertaining, but more intriguing than the train wreck is the rare story of one who manages to pull himself out of his pitiful existence — the drug abusing, jailbird celebrity who finds lasting sobriety and subsequent success or “Biggest Losers” who shed hundreds of life-threatening pounds. These are the stories that move us, and you don’t need to turn on the TV to see them. These true tales of redemption are being lived, and touching lives, right here in our neighborhood.
Read and watch their stories below.
She tried it all — the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, structured weight-loss programs — but nothing seemed to work.
“I’ve done all of them. It’s great to see that number go down on the scale, but you can’t sustain it.”
And when you weigh more than 300 pounds, losing 50 is barely noticeable. Michelle Beckley needed a lifestyle change. The Far North Dallas resident not only lost the weight, she became a tri-athlete, recently completing her first Ironman. Over three years, she dropped 160 pounds.
“You have to have something that changes your mindset,” Beckley says.
Beckley had always been overweight, even as a child, but her revelation came in 2007, when she exceeded the 250-pound weight limit for a zip line ride during a cruise vacation.
So that July, she and a friend signed up for the Independence Day 5k race through the Dallas Running Club. It took Beckley 15 minutes to run 1 mile. She finished dead last.
“Most people can walk faster than that,” she says.
But she kept running. She lost 50 pounds that year, 110 pounds the next year. She ran the 2009 White Rock Marathon and was the only person in the walk/run group to actually finish.
By April 2010, Beckley weighed less than 200.
“Running will take your weight off. Your body won’t carry the weight.”
She changed her poor eating habits and now has several small meals throughout the day, even while manning the family business, Kookaburra Bird Shop in Carrollton.
Last year, she took her training to the next level, competing in her first triathlon in Australia where the race stays open until the last person crosses the finish line.
“That’s the only time I ever got runner’s high,” Beckley says. “That’s when I really knew I wanted to do triathlons.”
She had always been a strong swimmer and just needed to hone her cycling skills — she didn’t even own a bike. She hired a private coach and trained five days a week to reach her goals. After a few Olympic-distance races, she tackled her first Ironman within her first year of training, which most people don’t attempt, she says. She finished in 16 hours.
Beckley now weighs about 180 pounds. But why all of that intense training instead of moderate exercise?
“It makes you accountable,” she says. “It forces you to cross train. My body is much happier than if I were just running. I don’t even recognize myself sometimes.”
• Michelle Beckley recently started an online business, Girls Gone Tri, selling accessories for female athletes. To learn more, visit girlsgonetri.com.
Dressed in a clean, pressed suit, Marvin Iglehart sits in the quiet lobby of Watermark Community Church, the place where he has shared his testimony time and again. From his jacket pocket, he pulls out a folded-up piece of paper — a color-coded grid that lists daily to-dos such as Bible study meetings and doctor appointments. It also includes things such as “drive to work” and “drive home”.
“It helps me maintain structure,” he says.
Iglehart took his first hit of crack cocaine in 1986. He has been clean since May 27, 2009, after enrolling in Union Gospel Mission, a ministry program that provides homeless individuals with food, shelter, clothing and faith. But before his life spun out of control, Iglehart worked hard to overcome his troubled childhood and even became a successful business executive.
Born into a family of drugs, alcohol and violence, he witnessed his father abuse his mother. She worked as a prostitute to make ends meet, and his brother sold drugs. As a child, Iglehart says he rejected that lifestyle and became a Christian at age 12. He says he attended church alone, and when he returned home, his brother would pin him down and blow marijuana smoke in his face.
Still, Iglehart refused to get caught up in that world. He studied engineering and graduated from college near the top of his class.
“I have a portfolio you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “I was the good kid. I said yes ma’am, no ma’am. I was using achievement to mask the shame.”
But despite his success, Iglehart could no longer escape that “darkness”, he says.
“I didn’t fit in. I felt not like everybody else.”
After a family member introduced him to crack cocaine, he continued on an up-and-down cycle. He would go on a six- to eight-month binge, get clean for a while and then do it all over again. Along the way, his relationship with his son and daughter crumbled.
“I guess I was on a suicide mission,” Iglehart says. “I saw so much of that darkness. A few people have this same story, but they’re dead.”
By 2009, he was homeless, and Union Gospel Mission gave him hope.
“They didn’t know anything about my background. They see you in the spirit of homelessness.”
That’s where Iglehart met leaders from Watermark. They invited him to join their community and helped him overcome his addiction through faith in Jesus Christ.
Today, Iglehart works as a senior quality engineer at a medical company in Dallas. He declined to say which one but believes that only divine intervention can explain why his boss hired him despite his criminal record.
He can now afford to pay child support, and he’s working on rebuilding his relationship with his children. He currently lives at Oxford House, which provides a safe haven for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. By 2012, he says he hopes to buy a home.
To this day, Iglehart isn’t sure what compelled him to follow Christ at 12 years old.
“I know God planted that seed, and that’s what sustained me. What I have now is more than I ever had.”
• To learn more about Union Gospel Mission’s work with the homeless, visit ugmdallas.org.
Matt Tillinghast realized he had a weight problem in September 2001 after seeing his souvenir photo from a local golf tournament. He was the youngest guy in the group — and the heaviest at 340 pounds.
The next day, he bought two pairs of tennis shoes and started walking a 7 1/2-mile loop around his neighborhood. One year later, he had dropped 60-70 pounds. Tillinghast checked in with his cardiologist at the Cooper Clinic, and what he heard shocked him.
“He said, ‘Matt, you’re doing a fabulous job. But you’re still morbidly obese.’ From that point on, I’ve been a runner.”
Today, Tillinghast weighs about 190 pounds and runs three to five marathons a year with an average time of 4 hours, 30 minutes. He has completed 20 marathons to date.
His real transformation began on the Preston Ridge Trail, where he does about 95 percent of his training. Since it opened in 2003, Tillinghast says he has logged more than 20,000 miles on the trail.
“The Preston Ridge Trail changed my life. It saved my life.”
Tillinghast grew up in Far North Dallas as the neighborhood developed during the 1970s. He attended Westwood Junior High, graduated from JJ Pearce High School and later Texas A&M University. Before he became a marathon runner, he led a sedentary lifestyle and focused on growing his dentistry practice at Coit and Spring Valley. He loved to eat and drank beer heavily. Now, he eats healthier and hasn’t had a drink since 2007. He has a 35-inch waist, down from about 47.
“I never want to go back there,” he says.
After his visit to the cardiologist, Tillinghast kicked his exercise regimen into high gear. He went from walking his 7 1/2-mile route to running it every day after work. He doubled his distance on the weekends.
“It was an overnight transformation,” he says.
Rain or shine, you can find Tillinghast out on the Preston Ridge Trail — never on a treadmill inside a gym.
“I love being outside in the elements. You don’t run marathons indoors. People I consider to be really good friends, I’ve met them on the trail. They’re good, solid, Christian people.”
But while he shed the pounds and enjoyed his newfound health, Tillinghast’s career as a dentist dwindled. About three years ago, he developed a condition known as essential tremor, in which his right hand shakes uncontrollably. He lost his practice and was denied disability payments. He went on to work odd jobs, struggling to pay the bills.
He could have slipped back into his old lifestyle, eating and drinking too much. But instead, he ran.
“That’s how I dealt with the stress. Some people eat, shop — I run.”
Now, things are looking up for Tillinghast. In January, he landed a job as a consultant for another dentist. Although he can’t physically practice anymore, he can remain in his field of expertise.
He has switched his daily runs to mornings, starting at 4:35 a.m. He doesn’t listen to music, he just thinks as he runs. He makes a mental to-do list for the day, prepares for his weekly Bible studies, and simply reflects on his life.
“I pray, and I talk to God. I talk to him a lot. You do a little flashback on your life and what you’ve done. Emotionally and mentally, this is the best place I’ve been in 10 years.”