FEATURE — Tyler Christensen predicts that 2020 will be “epic.”
With his second book just out, a new career as a public speaker gaining traction and several side ventures seeing success, Christensen – who teaches fifth grade at George Washington Academy – has a lot on his plate.
But the bigger story is what’s not on that plate anymore: Following a 100-pound weight loss in 2018, Christensen is looking forward to motivating others to transform their lives this year.
At his heaviest, Christensen tipped the scales at 306 pounds. A number of factors had contributed to his physical state. After a move with his wife and four kids from the Midwest to Cedar City, the man who’d spent a decade as a professor of educational psychology and technology found it difficult to find work. When George Washington Academy offered him an elementary-level job, Christensen assumed it would be a relatively low-stress gig.
“Teaching elementary school is way-harder than teaching college,” Christensen said. “I had to put in long hours; it was a huge adjustment. But teaching fifth graders is really rewarding, so it ended up being a great move for us.”
What wasn’t so great was that commuting from Cedar City to St. George meant that Christensen ate most of his meals “al desko.” He admitted that much of what he consumed consisted of highly processed, sugar-laden snack foods.
“I thought protein bars and rice cakes were healthy, so I’d munch on those from morning ‘til night,” Christensen said ruefully. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as food addiction; I just felt hungry and ate all the time.”
Although Christensen had been a distance runner in his youth and still put in a mile or two when time allowed, his weight continued to balloon. At his heaviest, with 40% body fat, Christensen could barely trudge around the block and struggled to squeeze himself in the door of the family car. That’s when his wife, Natalie, held an intervention.
“Natalie’s never been the type to nag. So when she told me she was worried about my health, she was afraid I could die, and she’d end up a single mom with four kids, I paid attention,” Christensen said.
Together, the couple made a plan to set Christensen back on the road to health. Over the course of the next six months, he did online research into various weight-loss disciplines and experimented with adding and subtracting certain foods from his diet. His lost a few pounds, gained back a few more. But he remained committed to his quest.
Then, as 2018 dawned, Christensen decided to forego his usual lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions and focus solely on a goal of shedding 40 pounds.
In May, when he was free from the classroom, he once again laced up his running shoes and headed out, only to discover he couldn’t complete a single mile. Undaunted, Christensen resolved to hit the road the following day…and the next. Within two weeks, exercise was an immutable priority, and the weight began to melt away. By the end of the summer, Christensen had already hit his 40 pound target.
“I thought, ‘Wow, what if I could lose 50 pounds?’ In my wildest dreams, maybe I could get down to 220, which would have been 80 pounds off. But I didn’t really think that would be possible.”
Despite a fall cruise, then Halloween, Thanksgiving and the holidays, Christensen’s exercise routine expanded, and his waistline shrank. He entered and completed the Sand Hollow Marathon. Then he set his sights on a seemingly impossible goal: running 50K+ in the September 2019 “Last One Standing Ultra Race” competition.
Staged at Confluence Park in St. George, the annual event sees participants completing as many 6-mile loops (for a possible total of 102 miles) as they can within 12 hours, with 1.5 hours allotted per loop. Failure to complete a loop in that time frame results in elimination from the race, with the “last one standing” declared the winner.
“I figured it would be perfect for me because there’s a break after every lap, and there’s no shame in dropping out after a few laps because eventually everyone does,” Christensen laughed. “So over the summer of 2019, I was putting in about 200 miles a month to train. I’d wake up at 4:30 a.m. and hit the trail while my family was sleeping.”
In all, Christensen completed nearly nine laps totaling 52.4 miles, exactly the distance of two full marathons. He called it an “amazing experience — intimate and incredibly supportive.” He said:
My 14-year-old son, Eli, who absolutely hates running, did the first lap with me to show his support, which was my biggest highlight. Also, we were joined by a guy I’d never met before; we talked about his past races, and he gave me all sorts of great tips. Turns out he was the winner, Roberto Piedra, who did all 102 miles! He posed with my family and me after our lap together, which was really special.
Looking ahead to this year, Christensen hopes his latest book, “Unlocking the POWER of Transformation: Transitioning from Dreamer to Doer,” will inspire others to take action. The release is a personal account of Christensen’s weight-loss journey and other transformations he has seen in his life.
He’s also launched “After the Run,” a digital platform offering podcasts, blog posts, videos and other fitness-related content. And in the next few months, Christensen aims to ramp up his new career as a public speaker and change-agent.
Considering all of his future options, Christensen’s face glows in the afternoon sun.
“It really is amazing here in Southern Utah,” he said. “The people are so fantastic; life is so much better than I ever could have imagined. Natalie and I really believe in this community. The longer we’re here, we just love it more and more.”
For more information about Tyler Christensen, visit his website.
Written by MARIANNE HAMILTON, for St. George Health and Wellness magazine.
This article was first published in St. George Health and Wellness magazine.