Five years ago, Bill Cole weighed 420 pounds, had little strength and less endurance, and generally avoided physical exercise.
Cole, 49, is a Lexington real estate consultant. Before that, he taught sociology at the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University.
"I was born with some foot problems and had a bunch of surgeries, which kind of gave me an excuse not to be active," he said. "In college, I started to get sedentary.
"I worked behind a computer, essentially lived in my car commuting to different college campuses, and ate nothing but drive-through."
Five years later, Cole has cut his weight roughly in half. He now weighs a little more than 200 pounds. He eats small portions of healthy foods only and is a hard-core bicyclist who pedals 150 miles a week, leads rides around Central Kentucky several times a week and tirelessly spreads the word that physical activity is a key to good health.
Cole never took an exercise class, never joined a spa. He says he turned his life and health around with wise eating and lots of walking and biking — and he did it on his own.
Not surprisingly, he doesn't think much of Men's Health magazine's recent designation of Lexington as America's most sedentary city.
"I prefer the designation we got from Bicycling magazine of 41st-best cycling community in the nation, which unfortunately nobody knows about," Cole said. "They wrote up our club ride that comes out of Masterson Station every Monday night as one of the best in the nation for cyclists of all levels."
What motivated him to get active? Almost six years ago, Cole's mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He took stock and realized that "every single older relative I had was an overweight diabetic."
He knew he had to do something about his health.
"I went down to Hartland Park, where they have a half-mile track, and started walking," he said. "It took me an hour to walk a half-mile, and I had to stop and sit down a couple of times."
It took Cole two days to coax his aching legs and ankles back to the track, but he kept walking. Soon, he was walking six or seven miles several times a week, and he entered 5K races — walking, not running.
He started counting calories, eliminated soft drinks and switched from deep-frying to grilling.
Cole bought a used bike at a garage sale and started puffing up and down Delong and Walnut Hill roads. Gradually, the rides got longer, with fewer rest stops, and his extra pounds started melting away.
Cole joined Bluegrass Cycling Club, becoming a club director and a member of the committee that plans the club's annual Horsey Hundred event. This year, he completed a "metric century," pedaling 100 kilometers in a day.
It has changed his life, he said.
"Anybody can do it," he said. "All it takes is the discipline to do it."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.