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Michigan Dad Loses 230 Pounds to Enlist in Army

By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Nov. 4, 2005 – When a recruiter stopped by to talk to his son, Roderick Evans was the one sold on the military. The Detroit home health care specialist had a passion for helping others and a desire to make a difference.

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Army Pvt. Roderick Evans, from C Company, 232nd Medical Battalion, practices the "fireman's carry" as part of combat medic training. Photo by Elaine Wilson
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

A military medical career sounded like a perfect fit.

The recruiter, on the other hand, saw a different picture. He took one look at Evans and said, "You're just too big."

At 5 feet, 7 inches and 418 pounds, Evans could hardly disagree.

But instead of easing the rejection with his usual overdose of comfort foods, he went on a weight-loss crusade. Fueled by sheer willpower and a determination to join the military, the 36-year-old finally conquered a lifelong battle with his weight. Three years and 230 pounds lighter, Evans again saw a recruiter. This time, he was met with a much different reception.

"He had me come down to his office for a (fitness) test," said Evans, now 39 years old and a svelte 165 pounds. "I passed with flying colors and signed up for the Reserves on the spot."

As a combat medic student at the Army Medical Department Center and School here, Evans now serves as a motivator for his fellow soldiers, a role he never anticipated when growing up on the streets of Detroit.

"It was rough," Evans said. "You had to either be the big guy so no one messed with you or you had to know how to fight. I was the big guy."

Evans' mother, a single mother of four, worked at two jobs to keep a roof over their heads. Evans became "papa" at home, cooking and cleaning for his siblings.

As a teen, his size was an advantage in football. That and his passion for the marching band kept him fairly fit and out of trouble, he said. He continued with both in college at Grambling University, in Louisiana, then signed on as a trombone instructor and vocal teacher at his alma mater. Evans taught there for 14 years.

Over the years, a love of sweets turned the 260-pound teen into a 418-pound man.

When his brother became sick, Evans and his wife, La Tanya, moved back to Michigan to help with his brother's three children. Evans took a job as a sales manager at a clothing store and a night job in home health care.

At 36, Evans was frustrated by his physical condition. "I couldn't walk from the couch to the door without sitting down," he said. "But I didn't want to push back from the table."

Although he worked in a clothing store, his own shopping trips were a dreaded nightmare. When he went shopping, he didn't ask the salesman to show him where the jeans were or for a style tip, he asked for the largest size in the store. Sometimes even the largest size wouldn't fit.

"That's when my wife would turn to me and just say, 'It will be OK,'" Evans said. "She knew how bad I felt."

But it wasn't until the recruiter walked in that Evans pushed his plate away. He got up from the couch and started walking, then running. With smaller portions and a steady diet of gym trips, the weight flew off.

"I never lost sight of my goal (joining the Army)," Evans said. "Even at 418 pounds I never gave up. That's just who I am."

A much slimmer Evans enlisted in July and traveled to Fort Sam Houston to start combat medic training. He is once again a father figure, but this time for the younger soldiers, who call him "pops."

"I watch over them and try to keep them motivated," Evans said. "I'm up early and running and yelling and keeping the soldiers going at (physical training)."

"Private Evans motivates me every time I see him in front of the company," said 1st Sgt. Armand Fermin, C Company, 232nd Medical Battalion. "His performance and attitude are phenomenal. He energizes me and the cadre and provides the younger soldier medics a positive role model."

Evans said his fellow trainees always ask him where he gets his energy. "I tell them I do it because I couldn't at one time," he said. "If I could fly, I'd fly."

Right now he is flying through training, and his leadership is helping him to obtain a few other goals -- to become an active duty officer and a nurse.

"I feel like a different person," Evans said. "I'm the same on the inside, but now my energy level matches my inner drive. I have the energy to do what I want to do."

Regarding his surgery- and prescription-free weight loss, "If you get it in your head that you can and will beat this, you will," he said. "Say today, not tomorrow. I won't cut off, but cut back. Try not eating sweets for a week, anything that will motivate you."

Evans still avoids candy bars and most sweets, and doesn't give them a second thought. His primary focus is on his military future. "I'm aiming for 20 years in the Army," he said. "It took me a long time to achieve this goal and I'm going to keep going until I can't."

(Elaine Wilson is the editor of the Fort Sam Houston (Texas) News Leader.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePvt. Roderick Evans carries a picture of himself at 418 pounds to remind himself to never give up. "When people saw me, they always saw me smile," he said. "This picture shows the hurt I felt on the inside." Courtesy photo  
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