300-Pound Cop Arrests Weight Gain, Saves Marriage

BY EMILY BEERS

The moment finally came for Joel Goodwin in August 2016.

After 20 increasingly unhappy years of letting himself gain weight and lose fitness, he was finally ready to take control.

“One Saturday evening after my 6- and 4-year-old sons went to bed, my wife and I sat down for dinner. She told me she wasn’t happy. She told me that I was the hardest person to be around and my negativity was changing who she was,” Goodwin said.

He continued: “I was lashing out at her and both my sons, not being the husband and father I knew I could be. … She told me that she didn’t know if she could go on in our marriage. I was devastated.”

By November, he’d moved out of the house and into a nearby apartment.

“How could I have let it get to this?” he thought.

The problem: Goodwin wasn’t happy with himself. He had let himself go, he had become overweight—303 lb. at 5 foot 10—and he was on medication for high blood pressure. Enough was enough.

“I decided I was going to make a change,” he said.

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After neglecting his health for decades, Joel Goodwin found his marriage in jeopardy. (Courtesy of Joel Goodwin)

Goodwin, now 44, wasn’t always overweight. As a teenager, he played soccer and basketball. By grade 10, he decided he wanted to become a police officer, which led him to study criminal justice and earn an associate’s degree before getting hired in 1998 as a deputy at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he still works.

Dedicated to becoming a police officer, Goodwin said the early post-high-school years were hard on his health. He paid no attention to his diet and didn’t focus on exercise, he explained.

“I ate lots of junk food, drank lots of beer and picked up smoking cigarettes. … If I ordered a sandwich, fries and a soft drink, I would always order a second sandwich almost merely out of habit. I could easily down a whole small pizza and ask for seconds. I just didn’t care what I was doing to my body,” he said.

“My weight started creeping up, and my fitness went way down. Before I knew it, I was 220 pounds.”

By the time he started his career as a deputy, his weight had jumped to 260 lb., and on his wedding day in 2004, he weighed in at 280 lb.

“Years of rotating shifts, cigarettes, bad diet and no exercise had begun to take a toll on my body,” he said.

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Goodwin’s medical chart read like a page out of a textbook on chronic disease. Still, he struggled to change. (Courtesy of Joel Goodwin)

This trend continued for 12 more years.

Along the way, Goodwin tried programs like Weight Watchers and dabbled with lifting weights, all to no avail. At one point, he got into running “but ended up walking most of the time,” he said.

Between his futile attempts to get fit, Goodwin lived a sedentary life and continued to become heavier. By 2016, he stepped on the scale one morning and saw 303 lb.

“I was taken aback, but as it turns out I (still) wouldn’t do anything about it. Procrastination has always been a problem of mine. ‘I’ll start working out tomorrow. I’m going to eat a salad tomorrow,’” he said of his inner negotiations.

“I had become so out of shape, had terrible self-esteem and had pushed down feelings over traumatic things I had seen in my career. I hit rock bottom,” he added.

Then came physical-testing day at work in 2016. The testing included a blood-pressure reading, push-up and sit-up tests and a 1.5-mile run for time. Goodwin’s blood pressure read 176/111 mm Hg that day, well into what is considered the dangerously high range. He made a doctor’s appointment and was immediately put on medication.

“I was mortified when I saw the words chronic obesity, hypertension and coronary artery disease on my medical chart,” Goodwin said. Considering his family’s history of chronic disease, he knew he was a “ticking time bomb.”

Still, he couldn’t find it in himself to make a change.

“If I had a mild heart attack, that’s what it would take to get me going. Then I would lose the weight,” Goodwin said of his thinking at the time.

Turns out, it wasn’t the fear of a heart attack but of losing his wife that lit a fire under his ass. He was determined to save his marriage.

He typed the word “CrossFit” into YouTube and stumbled across Gary Roberts’ story in the CrossFit Inc. documentary series “Killing the Fat Man.”

“I ended up watching the whole series when I got home from work that evening. I was amazed by how similar but different our situations were,” Goodwin said.

The next morning he stopped by CrossFit Coordinate in Cary, North Carolina, on his way to work and spoke to owner Philip Tabor.

“By the end of the day, I was a member,” Goodwin said.

Results came quickly. He eliminated fast food and stopped guzzling six-packs of Diet Dr. Pepper every day and started going to CrossFit three or four days a week. In about 18 months, he lost 75 lb.

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Before CrossFit, Goodwin weighed more than 300 lb., had high blood pressure and was in danger of divorce.

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After losing more than 70 lb. with CrossFit and good nutrition, today, Goodwin’s blood pressure is close to normal—and his marriage is even stronger than before. (Both: courtesy of Joel Goodwin)

Today, Goodwin eats a diet of whole foods, mostly lean meats—lots of chicken and fish, he said—and vegetables, and he weighs around 230 lb. His new lifestyle has also helped him largely fix his blood pressure, which now measures 125/75 mm Hg. He takes a reduced dosage of his medication now.

“I am very close to being able to stop taking blood-pressure medicine (altogether),” said Goodwin, who also stopped smoking when he started CrossFit.

His sleep quality has also improved in recent months. Although he was never formally diagnosed with sleep apnea, Goodwin used to snore like a grizzly bear, he said, and his wife told him he would stop breathing at night.

“That problem is now gone,” Goodwin said.

He continued: “I can honestly say that I am in better physical shape than when I completed my (police training) in 1998, and I’m 20 years older.”

Before CrossFit, Goodwin ranked in the 39th percentile of his police department after physical-assessment testing. Now he’s in the 75th percentile. He also did the CrossFit Games Open for the first time in 2018 in addition to completing his first Murph.

“These are things I never would have dreamed of accomplishing two years ago. … Most days I don’t feel 44. I feel 24,” he said.

Tabor said Goodwin’s transformation reminds him of what he loves most about coaching.

“There isn’t an amount of money or return on investment you can place on the satisfaction of watching someone change their life and the impact on their family. … He is a great father and now can move like it with his kids,” Tabor said, adding that he considers Goodwin a great client and friend.

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CrossFit Coordinate owner Philip Tabor praised Goodwin for his positive attitude and service mindset. (Courtesy of Philip Tabor)

“The best thing about Joel has to be his willingness to serve. It’s no surprise his profession is based on service. He carries that mindset every day to the gym, helping out with anything he can,” he continued.

Goodwin’s life changes helped him get his wife back, too. He moved back home in April 2017 and said he and his wife have “never been happier.”

He added: “Reconciling with her meant everything. I had never considered divorce an option. It may sound cliché, but I honestly feel like we are better off for having been through it. We communicate better and are actually working on our fitness together.”

Though Goodwin made the changes on his own, he said he will forever be thankful to CrossFit for helping him get his life back.

“When all this started, I hated myself and who I had become. … I never contemplated suicide, but my life had no direction, and I just didn’t know how I was going to land on my feet,” he said. “My self-esteem is way better than it was. I look in the mirror sometimes and still see that fat dude and realize he’s not that far away. That drives me to push a little harder on a workout.”

The greater CrossFit community keeps him motivated and on track with his health and fitness, he explained.

“I find myself surfing around the CrossFit Journal, CrossFit podcasts and listening to Coach (Greg) Glassman talk. I never would have thought that fitness could be such a big part of my life,” Goodwin said.

He’s now considering attending the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course and becoming a coach.

“I have eight more years left in my 30-year law-enforcement career, and I would possibly like to become an affiliate owner (when I retire),” he said. “I’m not perfect, nor am I physically (where I) want to be yet, but I’m well on my way.

“Finding CrossFit has changed my life, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and does not constitute medical or other professional advice.

About the Author: Emily Beers is a CrossFit Journal contributor and coach at CrossFit Vancouver. She finished 37th at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.

From: CrossFit Journal

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