KAILUA-KONA — Three years ago, when Marcus Cook’s business sold, his mentor called him into his office.
His mentor revealed he was dying of cancer, he said, and, with Cook weighing 500 pounds, told Cook he was “dying from your choices.”
At that point, he made Cook promise to get healthy.
“‘I would do anything to be you,’” Cook recalled his mentor saying. “‘Because I can’t beat cancer, but I can beat being fat.’”
It was a tough discussion, said the Houston man, but he promised to make the change.
About 300 pounds, three marathons, six half-Ironman races and two full Ironman races later, Cook on Saturday will take to the course along with some of the world’s top athletes for the 2018 Ironman World Championship.
His online fundraising page for the Ironman Foundation shows that he’s raised $100,260 for the foundation. The foundation named Cook a member of the Ironman Foundation Athlete Team, including his story among a list of inspiring athletes from across the globe.
But getting to this point, Cook said on Thursday, wasn’t about one moment of “change.”
“I didn’t start off saying I was going to be at the world championship in Kona,” he said. “I started off saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I need to start walking 20 minutes a day.’”
Cook said taking the approach of changing “something new every day” was critical to how he got to where he is today, saying too often people try to make too many changes all at one time.
Walking for 20 minutes daily was followed by a commitment to only drink water, he said, followed by cutting out fast food and so on, each action compounding the next.
“So once you stack those components up, you find yourself in a different place from where you’re at,” he said.
And as he progressed, he said, he recognized the ripple effects his health and behaviors had on those around him.
His youngest son, he said, lost 80 pounds along with him and ran his first marathon at 14. His oldest son has completed a half-Ironman and is training for his first full Ironman in April.
“And we had none of that on the radar before I decided to change,” he said. “So I changed my health, and my family changed. I changed my health, and my worldview changed. I changed my health, and my work got better. I changed my health, and my marriage got better.”
That’s another message he says he shares with people: committing to change one part of one’s life is likely to also improve other areas as well.
Now looking forward to his first Ironman competition in Kona, he said, he’s thrilled to be hitting the same course that brings together everyone from the amateurs to the pros.
“The same drive and determination that each of us use is the same drive that each of us use to do what we’re trying to do,” he said. “To see an elite blow by me inspires me so much, because I know what my body’s capable of.”
But even when he’s off the course, he said, he feels compelled to encourage and inspire others also looking for the opportunity to make the shift.
“I was 500 pounds three years ago,” he said, “so the mission I have is to let people know that do have a weight issue and that have an issue that they’re sitting around thinking that they’re in this place where they can never get out of, that anything is possible.”
“All you have to do is make a decision that you are going to do it and then just do it,” he continued. “And it’s the human mind, it’s the human soul, it’s the human spirit that can conquer anything.”