Everyone talks about living a healthy lifestyle, but not many follow through. Sometimes we need a friendly reminder about how critical our health is.
Taylor Haley got a wake-up call 10 years ago when his father-in-law suffered a stroke and a heart attack within a week's time. It prompted him to change his lifestyle, so much that now he's become an elite athlete competing in IRONMAN triathlons, and empowering change in others around him.
A reverend and doctor, Haley used to weigh nearly 300 pounds at the time tragedy struck his family. He said he went on a spiritual journey after stepping on the scale.
"When I look back at those pictures now, I look back and say that was pastor Bubba," he said.
He began riding his mountain bike, putting nearly 300 miles on it in less than three months. He also began running laps at La Crosse Central High School's track, half a lap at a time, building up his stamina. And at age 39, he learned how to swim.
But he wanted to challenge himself even more, so in 2005 he participated in a sprint triathlon in Racine. It went well enough that he signed up to compete in IRONMAN Wisconsin a year later.
"My whole family came," Haley said of that race in Madison. "My brothers and sisters, their kids, my kids. I've never felt so connected to my family in that day. They knew my journey. My niece had her boyfriend with her and he didn't hear my family cheering at all and wondered what the deal was. They were all in tears because they knew what it would take to get to where I got that day. It was just an incredible connection."
Today Haley is preparing to compete in his 12th IRONMAN race. He'll leave for Houston later in the week and complete the 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run on Saturday.
"The people who do IRONMAN are incredible," he said. "They're used to working through obstacles. They're people who endure. They don't give up and it's a great group of people to be around."
Taylor said IRONMAN is a goal so big it scares you off the couch. For the past few months, he's been fundraising for an equally large goal through the area nonprofit organization WAFER, where he serves as Board President. His goal is to help raise $100,000 to support WAFER's Nutrition Education and Tools (NET) project. The board has already agreed to fund $20,000, the rest will come from community donations.
The goal of the project is to teach people how to buy and consume whole foods so they don't rely on pre-processed foods that are generally less healthy.
WAFER Executive Director Erin Waldhart said the program also aims to teach users how to stretch their food dollar.
Haley's ultimate goal is to compete in the IRONMAN championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. In the meantime, he will continue to empower others to strive for their own goals.
"You don't have to go do IRONMAN, you just have to get up and do something," he said. "Because if you go to the gym and you don't love it, you don't keep doing it. But if you find something that you love, you keep doing it."
If you would like to support Haley's efforts to raise funds for WAFER, and learn more about his training regiment, visit the project website here.