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Jerome Leslie Turns the Tide with 75-pound Weight Loss
By Linda Trainor, RN, BSN
It is much easier for Jerome Leslie to make waves this summer after experiencing a 75-pound weight loss.
“I just finished the Boston Light Swim,” he says proudly, adding that this was his most challenging and longest swimming race to date.
Not many swimmers over the last 100 years have been able to complete the race in the allowed time of five hours. However, on July 26, 2014, Jerome was one of 24 solo swimmers who not only started the eight-mile swim, but stroked past seven harbor islands and fought through the ocean swells to finish the race in South Boston.
Jerome admits that this accomplishment would have been highly unlikely prior to having weight loss surgery, which he underwent in November of 2010 with Dr. Daniel Jones, Director of the Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“Getting the gastric band placed has made such a difference in my life,” says Jerome. “It actually propelled me back into the water to rekindle my lost love of swimming.”
Over the past four years, Jerome has not only succeeded in improving his swimming technique, but in making healthier food choices, decreasing portion sizes and eating mindfully. These lifestyle practices helped turn the tides, as Jerome’s body-mass index (BMI) has gone down from 41.4 to 34.1.
Jerome admits to struggling with weight for his entire life before having the gastric band procedure. Standing nearly 7 feet tall throughout his high school and college years, his BMI never quite escalated to an unhealthy point, despite his poor food choices, because he was an avid competitive swimmer.
“I have always been the embodiment of the ‘Big and Tall’ individual since the day I was born,” Jerome says. “But I was never really conscious about my eating habits at that age because I was burning so many calories swimming.”
This changed in early adulthood when he stopped his rigorous, six-day-a-week swimming activity. With decreased exercise and unchanged eating habits, Jerome gained 75 pounds. He vividly recalls how his eating was out of control, and how disheartening it was to realize that his choices did not support the sport he had grown to love and cherish.
“I did not eat like a competitor or champion,” he says, “and my body was under a considerable amount of physical stress from this weight gain, even though I had been a competitive swimmer since I was five.”
Jerome developed several comorbidities related to his weight gain, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, and back and knee pain. He also began to suffer from decreased self-esteem, panic attacks, and situational depression related to obesity.
“I just didn’t feel good, I knew I was in deep waters with my health,” he says. “I couldn’t even swim a mile due to shortness of breath and decreased stamina. Finding clothes was next to impossible. I lived out of jeans and wore oversized sweatshirts and always carried an extra sweatshirt to change if I sweated too much because of the extra weight.”
From 2003 to 2010, Jerome challenged himself with a series of self-directed and formalized diets that resulted in losing 20 pounds, then regaining 30.
But he didn’t drown in his struggles. With the true soul and sheer stubbornness of a competitive athlete, Jerome refused to give up, no matter how many times he failed in reaching his weight loss goal. He knows that his futile dietary attempts were very much a part of his eventual success, and he learned from those losing/gaining experiences.
“I learned that the options of doing what I loved were all slipping away due to being overweight,” he says.
With the help of a therapist to address his emotional triggers to eating, as well as his decision to have the adjustable gastric band procedure, Jerome came to a realization that nothing tasted as good as becoming physically active again.
“Now, I am doing very well,” says Jerome. “But one thing is for certain: the swimmer I was at 18, I am not at 36 — but I have a whole new set of goals to accomplish in the sport that I love.”
Not to mention a whole new appreciation for and a new perspective of that sport, as well as a newfound confidence.
“At 18 I swam fast and furious for sprint races, I did not have the technique or mentality to be an endurance swimmer. But after my weight loss, I discovered what was actually considered to be a negative effect on my body literally became better for my age,” Jerome explains. “I know that I never am going to win an ocean race or be the fastest marathon swimmer, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I can still accomplish and complete the race within the parameters, and I let that be my ultimate swimming goal.”
While Jerome’s weight has finally stabilized, his life is soaring. Upon finishing the Boston Light Swim, Jerome and his wife packed all their belongings and headed to Seattle for a new life with new adventures. In or out of the water, whether he’s living on the East Coast or West, nobody is going to break Jerome’s championship stride for healthy, happy living.
All photos courtesy of Jerome Leslie
Above content provided by the Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.