Perfect Losers

Dan Kampen isn’t a particularly impatient man. But when he agreed to start running half-marathons with his sister two years ago, he learned something new about himself: he didn’t like running behind, and he despised being relegated to back of the pack.

That Kampen was even participating in half-marathons back in 2008 is a tribute to his determination. But at 281 pounds and 49 years of age, he envied the svelte, muscular competitors that seemed to whiz by him so confidently along the course. 

“I wanted to be up front, with what I call the real runners,” he says, “not where I was–hanging back and feeling nervous about the race.”

And while Kampen did finish his first race–“I waddled across the finish line,” he chuckles– he began to hatch a plan that very day to get in shape and become the real competitor that he dreamed he could be.

As founder and CEO of The Rochdale Group, a financial consulting firm, he launched a personal “get-fit” plan methodically, just as he would have with any other business initiative. If he had written it down, it would have started like this: Step 1, do your research. Step 2, hire the best personal trainer you can.

“I interviewed a bunch of trainers, and a few of them seemed to just be telling me what I wanted to hear in order to sell me,” he says. 

Then local trainer Jamie Plunkett walked in. “‘If you want to run faster, then you’re going to have to lose a lot of weight,'” Plunkett told Kampen, who appreciated the trainer’s no-nonsense approach coupled with his detailed exercise and diet plan.

Over the next 12 weeks, Kampen followed Plunkett’s regimen and the weight began to come off. Ultimately he lost 69 pounds and shaved 31 minutes–a runner’s eternity–off of his half-marathon finish time. In the past he had tried to lose weight simply by eliminating fried foods or desserts from his diet; now chicken and brown rice were the staples that actually did the trick. 

“I was never hungry,” he says. Bored with the taste? Maybe. But he learned to chew a little slower and to enjoy social events without succumbing to food. “You can still enjoy the camaraderie without the eating,” he says. 

Kampen runs about twenty miles per week and works weights with Plunkett two times weekly as well. Besides eating less and exercising more, he attributes his success to four things: an excellent trainer, a supportive wife, a good work ethic and prayer throughout the process. 

“I knew I needed a trainer who was willing to give me a kick in the b[ehind],” he laughs. “And I’m also not a guy who gives up easily, so the combination of those two things worked well.”

And for anyone wanting to lose weight, Kampen stresses the importance of having a plan. Even now, in the methodical fashion you’d expect from a financial executive, he carries a notebook with him at all times. In it he keeps detailed logs of both the diet and exercise that’s allowed him to lose a total of 65 pounds in 12 months.

But is all the hard work and recordkeeping worth the effort? Absolutely, says Kampen, whose children see their dad as happier and more energetic without the extra weight. “Just being able to buy clothes at a regular store, or fit into an airplane seat during my weekly business commute–it’s changed my life.”

Yet for Kampen, a few things haven’t changed at all, like his focus on what he says matters most: his family and his faith. “The weight loss isn’t the most important thing,” he admits to the surprise of some who know how hard he’s worked to get in shape. “It’s something I’m doing, but it’s not everything.”

In the next few months, he’ll continue to do more “somethings,” including running his fifth half-marathon and his first full-marathon. “This time, I get to run with the real runners,” he says.

words: Cisley Thummel

photos: Paul Versluis