'Large Fella on a Bike'

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

The rebirth of Scott Cutshall began Thanksgiving day 2005, a bowl of vegetable soup for breakfast kicking off a new life where nothing would be the same. Cutshall, living in Jersey City at the time, weighed 501 pounds. He was having breakfast. And then he was getting ready to go on a bike ride.

He rode 1.9 miles that day, rolling through neighborhoods, biking on the street, stopping to rest four or five times to sit on a curb. Head down. Panting. Hot even in November.

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Cutshall began riding at more than 500 pounds.

The ride of less than 2 miles took Cutshall three hours to complete. But the wheels were turning. His body was in motion. The journey had begun.

“Everything changed from that day forward,” Cutshall said.

Back up to 2004. Cutshall, a freelance jazz drummer, husband and father, 38 years old, was not sure if he’d live to see 40. He wore size XXXXXXXXXXL pants and could not tie his own shoes. He could walk only nine steps at a time. Breathing was sometimes difficult. A doctor said he would be dead in six months without stomach-reduction surgery and heavy medication.

Further, Cutshall had just a 50 percent chance of surviving an operation, the doctor guessed, his heart likely to quit under the anesthesia and stress.

Flip a coin. Tails you live. Heads you’re dead.

“I hated those odds,” he said.

So he ignored the doctor. He didn’t flip the coin. He flipped his life instead.

He changed everything. He started eating vegetable soup for breakfast. Hummus on pita was lunch. Dinner was salad and pasta. Every day.

No exception.

And he got a bike, a reinforced custom model built in Minneapolis. It was the only viable type of exercise for someone his size, he said. He started riding every night, at first just around the neighborhood, where he rode after dark. “I was embarrassed to go out,” he said.

He started a blog, “Large Fella on a Bike,” to document the journey. Cutshall’s goal was singular and stubborn: to lose hundreds of pounds of weight by changing his lifestyle and pedaling a bike.

Do or die, he thought.

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Cutshall with his daughter near peak weight.

Plot spoiler: Cutshall did it. In the first four months, riding lots and eating little, 50 pounds fell off. Two months later, another 20 pounds. He could use the scale in the bathroom again.

In May 2006 the dial spun to 413 pounds. More than 75 pounds of girth had gone away. “I was just shrinking,” he said.

In 2004 Cutshall went outdoors only four times, sequestered in a brownstone apartment, out of touch with the world. Now he was riding more than 100 miles a week, wind on his face, world whizzing by.

Every day was 20 or 30 miles of pedaling. Plus one more mile after he got home. “I get home, I turn around and I ride one more mile,” he said. “This is to prove I can do it.”

He made plans to get off the East Coast, to leave the old life behind. The chrysalis was cracking. By fall 2006 — thousands of miles now put on the pedals — Cutshall weighed in at 350 pounds. A new person was emerging from a shell.

A bike was saving his life, he said. And the person who built that bike, Bob Brown of Bob Brown Cycles LLC, lived in Minneapolis. “Other frame builders turned me down, even laughed at me,” Cutshall said. “But Bob embraced the project.”

Knowing no one other than Brown, the Cutshalls — Scott, his wife, Amy, and 8-year-old Chloe — moved halfway across the country last June.

“We wanted to go somewhere to embrace the cycling lifestyle,” said Cutshall, who first considered Portland, Ore., before Brown and other local cyclists persuaded the family in Internet discussions that Minneapolis — the nation’s No. 2 cycling city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — was the best choice.

They sent a deposit for an apartment and made the move, sight unseen. Amy, a nurse, got a job in St. Paul. Scott home-schooled Chloe from their new apartment. They now live in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood, bike lanes and parkway trails streaming to all compass points right out the front door.

The family owns a car, but Cutshall said 99 percent of errands are done on two wheels, pannier packs and a trailer hauling groceries home from the store. Chloe rides on a tag-along bike attachment, her own handlebar, saddle, pedals and a wheel connected to dad’s frame.

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Riding in Minneapolis, winter 2008.

As the family settled into life in Minnesota, the pounds continued to fall away. A weight check in August — Cutshall gets on a scale every six weeks — revealed digits blinking at 278.2. It’d been 20 months, and Cutshall had dropped almost half of his body mass.

By the end of the year, riding through the Minnesota fall and into the cold, Cutshall passed the 4,000-mile mark around Christmas. For all of 2007, Cutshall later calculated, he’d gone 4,083 miles.

He ate essentially the same thing every day, three base meals developed off research from the book “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a New Jersey physician. The food equaled a daily dose of about 1,200 calories and provided all the nutrients, protein and vitamins essential for good health, though nothing more, Cutshall said.

He has an espresso with breakfast and a glass of wine with dinner. Cutshall said he never tires of the menu, as it was designed to include “everything a human craves,” he said. “There are things that are hot, cold, salty, creamy, chewy, spicy, savory, and crisp.”

Cutshall emphasizes that this meal plan is not a diet. In fact, don’t even say that word around him. After years of trying fad diets to lose weight, the D-word no longer exists in the Cutshall nomenclature. “It takes a total lifestyle change, with food being one part of a larger picture,” he said.

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Today, Cutshall weighs 232 pounds. He’s biked through the Minnesota winter, pedaling 10 to 30 miles daily regardless of the temperature or snowfall.

Last week, he said his weight would likely plateau around 180 pounds. That’s 52 pounds to go, although Cutshall has no set number. “It’s not about a goal weight,” he said. “I’m just doing what’s healthy for my body, and the results will follow.”

I’d seen a picture of Cutshall near his peak weight. Sitting next to his daughter, a mug of black coffee steaming on the table between us, Cutshall was unrecognizable from the photograph. He looked like a new man. There was a light in his eyes.

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Scott Cutshall, January 2008.

“You used to be as big as two of me and two of Mommy,” Chloe said, bouncing around her father. Cutshall smiled.

It’s been more than two years since his Thanksgiving Day commitment, and everything in Cutshall’s life has changed. He is humble and thankful for it. But Cutshall exudes a calm confidence.

After years of self-doubt, years fighting a battle against weight, he has conquered something big, and he knows it. He has a new belief in himself. It’s that belief — not to mention a bike built in Minneapolis — that may have saved his life.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

Posted by Jason Pawelsky - 04/18/2008 01:08 PM

This is an incredibly inspirational story!! It’s this kind of dedication and passion for life that far too many people are lacking. Ride on Scott!!

Thanks Stephen, for sharing this story!!

Posted by TC worley - 04/18/2008 01:24 PM

My favorite type of story! Well done, friend. And well done, Scott!

Posted by Thomas Bastis - 04/18/2008 01:45 PM

I have a “big” friend who needs to read this story. I just don’t know how to bring the subject up. I don’t feel like I can say anything. Kinda a perplexing dillema because I know I can help but don’ know how to broach this subject.

Posted by The Piton - 04/18/2008 03:42 PM

Great article Stephen. I love reading about everyday adventure like Scott is living.

Posted by John - 04/18/2008 03:54 PM

Agreed. One of your best…

Posted by Kim - 04/18/2008 06:04 PM

What an inspiring story, I have a lump in my throat. I am amazed by the results of determination.

Posted by kurt - 04/18/2008 08:25 PM

WOW !!! I’m impressed, what else can I say

Posted by David ("Poppa P") Politis - 04/19/2008 08:54 AM

WOW! What a fantastic and inspiring story, Stephen. (We’re giving you and your story props on our SOAR blog here. Keep up the great work.

Poppa P

Posted by brenda - 04/19/2008 02:08 PM

A-maze-ing!
what an inspiration you are scott!
i cried tears of joy while reading your story!
welcome to minnesota!! ride on… :-)

thanks for bringing scott’s story to us stephen!

Posted by J.K. - 04/21/2008 08:08 PM

What an awesome story!

Posted by Suburban Bushwacker - 04/22/2008 02:49 AM

WOW what a cool story. I could do with losing a few pounds myself, inspirational!

Posted by BW - 04/22/2008 09:36 AM

Hey Thomas B, I’m a big guy and have found this very uplifting, having quit smoking 8 years ago I put on considerable weight and like the giving up smoking when the time was right I had the strength to do it.I’m now working on trying to do the same with my weight so give the guy you know your friendship and encouragement for any attempts he makes but only he can make the decision, I would just be his friend, good luck.

Posted by Paul - 04/23/2008 10:53 AM

That is awesome!! This shows you that you can do what ever YOU WANT!

Posted by Brock - 04/23/2008 11:57 AM

Fantastic story, storytelling.

Posted by TC worley - 04/25/2008 12:54 PM

If you have a “Big Fella” friend who would like to make a change, this story and another “Heft on Wheels” (book) might be of help. I’ve got a big friend and I have to be quite careful about my approach. Good luck.

Posted by Ewanni - 05/04/2008 07:22 AM

Awsome article! I wonder if he ever got any complications like sore knees or shin splints. But I’m sure after all the miles of biking he’s done his legs, tendons, and everything are super fit and adapted for what he does.

Posted by Nguyen - 06/27/2008 10:31 AM

Scott, You’re the MAN.

Posted by Gregg - 10/06/2008 08:52 PM

I too have been trying to find a bike I could ride. I have felt the pull to ride. I used to ride everywhere when I was younger – and skinnier.
I’m this >< close to death and I know it.
I’m 5’11” | 598lbs (over 100lbs of lymphedema water) | and just turned 39
To be honest, I thought I’d be gone before 35.
I live on pain killers just to move about.
And yes… like so many brothers and sisters I’ve “tried” many, many diets. They don’t work. I know – and knew all along – that it will have to be a life change and not some temporary change in eating habit.
I want to ride. I can feel it in every ounce of my being (yes, that was an attempt to be funny). I attend a free exercise program offered by a local hospital in a nearby mall. I’ve also just started physical therapy three times a week for the lymphedema. I walk – as best and far as I can – daily at a park. I’d like to ride there because I know I’d get healthier quicker and do less harm to my joints. Even with the pain killers I am just so limited. Then of course there is the muscle fatigue from atrophy.
I’m not complaining. I did this to myself and I’m just telling it like it is. I am also doing things to make what may be my last stand a success.
I am encouraged to see it can be done. I am happy to see others in my position have done so well. You are blessed and a blessing.
I’ll be looking into Bob Brown Cycles again. I had come across his website just tonight. The price scared me away but, after reading that you were at near my weight and that he/they were willing to work with you to build a bike that suited your needs… well, I feel better about giving them a closer look. Even at those prices it’s cheaper than Lap-Band… safer than bypass and will be worth the price if it improves my quality and quantity of life.
Thanks so much for sharing your story.
God bless,
Gregg

Posted by Darryl - 03/13/2009 09:21 PM

Wow what an absolutely fantastic achievement and inspiration. I just casually looked at this story but by the end I had tears coming out. I had to consider my own procrastination to get out on my bikes and achieving some healthy living once more as pretty feeble excuses in comparison to what Scott’s overcome. Utmost respect and a great article.

Posted by Dental Kissimmee - 11/03/2009 09:15 PM

Hi Scott! your determination and self discipline is really amazing. you’re so inspiring. you look much better now!

Posted by Frazer Levy - 01/12/2010 09:37 AM

A true inspiration, it takes astronomical amounts for any one over weight to that extent of self discipline, will and determination to go as far as you did Scott you are 1 in a million great story

Posted by DENEICE TELL - 06/30/2010 11:57 AM

HELLO, DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT KIND OF BIKE SCOTT USED. I NEED TO BUY ONE TODAY!

Posted by Allan Wenninger - 01/10/2012 10:35 AM

Wow!!! I am so happy for you. Two years ago I was 5’8” and 355lbs. I decided to do something about it and picked up a bike. Last year I was at 235 at my lightest. I just started to notice my weight coming back. I need to get back at it. Reading this has helped me get re-inspired. Thanks-Al

Posted by Sunil - 05/16/2012 08:58 AM

Absolutely inspirational! Keep riding!

Posted by Kevin Yarbough - 05/23/2012 01:40 AM

Scott you are a man with a very strong mind. I know it took a lot of willpower and determination to achieve this type of success in an area that so many people struggle with including myself. I stumbled upon this page because I am having the same dalima trying to find a bike with a weight capacity of 500lbs plus. You have really inspired me to duplicate your success created from your hard work and dedication. Thank you so much and may God continue to bless you and your family!

Posted by Deb - 08/26/2012 01:50 PM

Well done! Very inspirational THANKS FOR SHARING

Posted by Leonard - 06/19/2013 06:36 PM

Your life story has inspired me to ride again. The weight has decreased as I ride farther each week. I always think of what you say to go 1 more mile. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Posted by Chris - 07/20/2013 07:15 PM

Wow very nice story. I really started to ride a bike a few months ago when I moved from France to Iowa and I must say that you are so inspiring… Plus I really like your menu! Good things, right taste and well-balanced choices… I was in Minneapolis a few days ago and I must say that you were right to move there. Very nice city to ride and colorful place to live….
Enjoy!

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