After setting a tremendous goal, an Ohio man decided to take his life, his future and his health into his own hands.

In September 2014, Rodney Rappe awoke one morning and decided to lose some weight.

At that time, he weighed around 480 pounds and was morbidly obese. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, a person is considered morbidly obese if he or she is 100 pounds over his/her ideal body weight, has a BMI of 40 or more, or 35 or more and experiencing obesity-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Worse, he was afraid that if he died there would be no one to take care of his ailing mother. He vowed that morning he would try to lose 200 pounds in one year.

Less than a year later, Rappe now weighs 290 pounds and is losing nearly one pound a day. 

“I’m on Social Security disability,” he told the Ashtabula (Ohio) Star Beacon. “I was very worried that I would not be able to take care of my mom if I kept getting heavier. And naturally there was the worry I could die.”

Rappe said he was motivated by the choice made by a character in the 1994 film “The Shawshank Redemption:” Either get busy living or get busy dying. As he laid in bed that September morning, Rappe said he realized he was busy dying.

“I wanted to lose three pounds every four days,” he said. “I limited my caloric intake from 1200 calories per day to less than 460 calories per day. But after about two months I could still only lose about one pound every four days.”

Rappe realized that to meet his goal he had to do more than limit his caloric intake. He decided to begin exercising, but was too heavy to even do that.

“I almost gave up,” he said. “I’d been going to internal medicine practitioner Dr. A.S. Lee in Ashtabula since 2013 and he mentioned swimming as an alternative to running or weight training that would be easier on joints and muscles under stress.”

Rappe said he used to take eight to 10 pills per day to combat depression, cramps, back, knee and joint aches and other pains associated with obesity. At the end of last month, Rappe decided to get a YMCA membership and start swimming.

“Now I swim every day I can at the YMCA,” he said. “And so far that has helped me lose even more weight comfortably. One month I lost 54 pounds, going from 396 to 342 pounds.”

Rappe said he keeps a diet journal that describes everything he eats.

“I start the day with eight ounces of orange juice,” he said. “A little later I’ll eat a 90 calorie cereal bar with coffee. I don’t have a meal until later in the afternoon when I have a half breast of boneless broiled chicken and some spinach with vinegar and sea salt. For me, a snack might be a serving of yogurt or seven strawberries.”

He keeps constant track of what he eats, but is still concerned about losing too much too quickly and needing skin surgery. For many, though, swimming seems to have many weight loss benefits and can even slow down the need for surgery.

Rappe said his mother, Pamela, a partially blind amputee, needs constant assistance getting around and now he is better able to help her.

Pamela Rappe had nothing but praise for her son’s efforts.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “Most people need surgery to lose this much weight, but he did it all naturally. It’s just wonderful.”

One of his best friends, Nelson Dodge, remembers how difficult it was for Rappe to get around last year.

“We first met while we were working together about 20 years ago,” Dodge said. “Rodney was heavy but not as much as he got later. About a year ago, I was very worried about him. He was having difficulty getting around and even breathing. He couldn’t get into my truck and couldn’t walk when we went to the store.”

Dodge said that while he never said anything to Rappe about it, he thought it was probably too late for his best friend.

“I never pushed the issue, but I was very concerned,” he said. “Then, he started this diet and I couldn’t believe the results. He can breathe now, he swims every day and walks at the store. I take my hat off to him. He made up his mind he was going to do this and he did it. It’s unbelievable.”

Rappe said he now enjoys shopping for clothes because he doesn’t have to go to an extra large catalog anymore.

“It’s nice to be able to buy clothes like a normal person,” he said. “I used to have to buy from the king-sized catalogs. I was at 8X large in shorts and shirts and now I’m at a 3X shirt and size 52 pants. It’s great.”

Rappe said he was proud of what he’s accomplished so far, but doesn’t feel special. Nonetheless, saying that he’s put an enormous amount of effort into losing weight would be an understatement.

“My feeling is that if I can do it, anyone can,” he said. “You just have to set goals and meet them as well as you can.”

Deluca writes for the Ashtabula (Ohio) Star Beacon.

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