In March 2015, Scott Alvarez was at Comic Con in Kansas City and had his photo taken with Stephen Amell, the actor who plays Oliver Queen and the Green Arrow on the CW’s “Arrow.”
“He was there for one day, and I paid $50 to have my picture taken with him,” says Alvarez, who was 410 pounds at the time. “As I stood in line, I saw people moving through quickly and flashes going off every three seconds. I thought, ‘Is this going to be worth it?’”
When it was his turn, Stephen put his arm around him, they both smiled, the camera flashed and Alvarez walked away, thinking one thing: “That was freaking awesome.”
“I’ve never been starstruck before, and it was so cool to be that close to him,” says Alvarez. “Stephen uses his celebrity to help the causes that are near and dear to him. And, as a gay man, I can say he’s freaking hot, so that’s a draw as well.”
Shortly after it was taken, Alvarez received the picture — and immediately felt two very deep emotions. “The only thing I could see was how big I looked,” he says. “I hated having my picture taken, and anything that was taken was only of my face. That picture held great joy and incredible sadness because it was such a great moment, but it was also the first time I really saw myself and how big I’d gotten.”
While that picture spurred him to consider a big life change, Alvarez credits a health scare with getting him off the couch.
In April 2015, Alvarez found himself in the emergency room with cellulitis on his leg, an infection of the skin and soft tissues beneath. The infection turned into massive blisters and forced him to spend a week in the hospital. Alvarez learned weight-related circulation issues — and hours spent playing “World of Warcraft” — had played a large part in his infection.
“I’ve always been a gamer/geek type person, but “World of Warcraft” was a complete time sink to me,” he says. “I’d lose whole weekends, Friday through Sunday, playing, and would only realize how much time had passed when I got hungry or had to go to the bathroom.”
After a second bout with cellulitis in July, Alvarez decided to put his love of electronics to work in a different direction. “I’m a gadget freak,” says the 44-year-old, whose blog, Get Fit Geek, tracks his weight-loss journey. “If I had to decide between food and water and the next cool gadget coming out, I’d seriously consider the next cool gadget.”
People think they have to walk five miles or do big stuff exercise-wise, not realizing that any movement burns a tremendous amount of calories.
He asked his husband, Shane, for an early birthday/Christmas present: an Apple watch, specifically for its color-coded move, stand and exercise rings that track daily movement patterns. “Everything clicked once I started to close those rings,” he says.
As a logistics team member for Target in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, Alvarez was eligible for reimbursement from Weight Watchers, so he started there. “It was great, but I was eating to a number; I didn’t feel like I made any behavioral changes,” he says. “I tried MyFitnessPal and loved it. Not only did it allow me to keep track of my calories in and out, but it taught me about portion size and macros. When you go from just eating food to learning about the calories and nutrients in those foods, it’s a total eye opener.”
For the exercise component, Alvarez went online and did research on couch-to-5K running plans. The more he read, however, the better he understood the importance of simply moving more.
“In the beginning, when I was 400 pounds, I didn’t realize how many calories I could burn by doing simple things like walking,” he says. “People think they have to walk five miles or do big stuff exercise-wise, not realizing that any movement burns a tremendous amount of calories. I could walk 30 minutes and burn 700 calories in the beginning, even though I was winded and dead tired. Now, I would have to run about an hour at a six- or seven-mile pace.”
A few months later — and 40 pounds lighter — Alvarez tried a spin class. “Totally kicked my ass, but I kept up with it,” he says. “I also found Heath, a coach who helped me add some strength training to complement all the cardio I was doing. After losing another 40 pounds, I decided to add swimming to my routine. Once I got under 300 pounds, I decided to try jogging. Those first 100 pounds were about figuring out what worked for me.”
Today, with hard work, dedication and nearly 600 consecutive days of logging into MyFitnessPal, Alvarez has lost 180 pounds. “My initial goal was to weigh 200 pounds by my 45th birthday in December 2017, and I’m now down to 216 pounds. I had a secondary goal to get below 17 percent body fat and I’m now below that,” he says. “I’m finding the fun in being with people who are also into fitness. I’ve done most of the work so far alone. Now that I’m at the finish line, I need to find friends who like to do the same things I do now.”
Speaking of finish lines, Alvarez completed a half marathon in Olathe, Kansas, this spring in just under 2 and a half hours and is now setting new goals, including doing half marathons on back-to-back weekends and a full marathon. Eventually, he wants to venture into triathlons and is even considering an Ironman-distance race.
“It was the most amazing experience of my life,” he says of his first half marathon. “I was never the athletic kid growing up, but having my family there to cheer me on was … the one and only time I have cried during this entire journey. And it was only partially because I hurt so bad from running 13.1 miles.”
At the 2017 Comic Con, Alvarez was back in line to have this picture taken with Amell once again. This time, however, he was 179 pounds lighter.
“I brought the picture we’d taken together in 2015, held it up and flexed when they snapped the shot,” he says. “I was getting ready to walk away when Stephen told me to hold on and gave me a big bear hug. He said, ‘You’re incredible. I’m so proud of you.’”
Originally published August 2017