Meet the superfit Suffolk veteran who lost half his body weight
PUBLISHED: 20:25 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 22:19 09 July 2019
After tipping the scales at 25 stone, an ex-soldier has dropped almost half his body weight in an incredible transformation.
After tipping the scales at 25 stone, an ex-soldier has transformed himself by dropping almost half his body weight in an incredible transformation.
Gary Edwards, a 53-year-old father-of-two from Shotley Gate, is now a runner and fitness buff, passing on his enthusiasm for healthy lifestyles and exercise at weekly runs at Alton Water reservoir.
But for almost two decades, Mr Edwards was battling against depression and alcoholism, self-medicating until his weight reached a stunning 25st 2lbs.
"Everything just fell apart"
Previously a fit young soldier, Mr Edwards joined the Royal Corps of Signals in 1983.
While stationed in the German town of Krefeld and cycling back to base one evening in 1992, he was struck by a lorry and crushed under the wheels.
Injuries to his arm, knee, wrist and face meant he had to be rushed to hospital and his wife Wendy had to hurry to his bedside - only for her go into labour while visiting him.
Placed next to each other in the hospital, their son Christopher was born and they spent a day together as a family before their infant son tragically passed away after suffering a brain haemorrhage.
It was the second terrible loss Mr Edwards had suffered after his brother, a fellow soldier serving in Germany, committed suicide just a few months before.
Mr Edwards said: "Everything just fell apart. It took a year to get rid of the physical injuries I sustained and then I was hit by a car in Ipswich.
"We were on a cycling holiday but a car didn't see me and hit me. It hit me and sent me straight back to hospital."
He was left with a broken leg, deep vein thrombosis and was diagnosed with PTSD - which saw him discharged from the army.
"All of this drove me into depression - I'd lost my job, my brother, my son - and I became an alcoholic, I was an alcoholic for 18 years."
Through drinking and depression, Mr Edwards' weight peaked at a shocking 25st 2lbs.
In March 2013 one of his daughters came home to find him drinking again and her anger acted as a wake-up call for Mr Edwards, spurring him into support groups for his alcoholism and weight issues.
After years of hard work, he managed to lose more than 11 stone.
Since then he run two marathons and taken up a role at Alton Water every weekend with Great Run Local, leading joggers of all abilities on 2k and 5k runs next to the beautiful reservoir in the Shotley peninsula.
"The skin is like a parasite"
Ballooning up to 25st had taken its toll on Mr Edwards' body, leaving skin sagging from his stomach and chest.
Mr Edwards described it as "a constant reminder of everything he had put behind him".
The charity Back on Track, who support veterans with their physical and psychological health, stepped in to help him.
Mr Edwards said: "Back on Track agreed to help but they said I had to see a psychologist - and it was that experience which really got my head right.
"The weight loss became even better and it was permanent because I wasn't thinking of turning to drink, I had dealt with that problem."
Back on Track covered the cost of his £11,500 operation to lose the excess skin on his body, using an advanced "tummy tuck" surgical procedure to take off the baggy skin.
On June 14, 2019, Mr Edwards went under the knife and is now recovering at home - and very soon he will be able to start exercising again.
His surgeon, Dr Hagen Schumacher, removed over 5lbs of skin from Mr Edwards - making his total weight loss almost half his weight - a staggering 12st 2lbs.
Mr Edwards is now 12st 9lbs and has lost an incredible 170lbs.
Dr Aamer Khan, clinical director at Back on Track, oversaw all of Gary's treatment.
Dr Khan said: "When Gary came out of combat he became depressed and treated himself with alcohol.
"It meant that he gained a tremendous amount of weight.
"He told me that because he had a larger face and rosy cheeks, people assume he was jolly - but inside he was terribly depressed.
"Attending support groups helped with his alcohol abuse but it also helped his PTSD.
"He was now losing a tremendous amount of weight, but when you lose that much weight your skin does not regress. It's at that point it can become a problem.
"Gary was very active so the skin was rubbing and becoming sore.
"Worse than this it can act like a parasite - that skin will still have blood flowing through it and requires nutrition and oxygen.
"The health benefits of the weight loss are limited while you still carry that skin.
"Before it was like he was giving a child a piggy back - when Gary starts exercising again he will find he is more efficient, he will be able to run faster and for longer."
"Without them, I don't think I'd be here"
Mr Edwards is now a vocal running advocate, saying: "It just gives you time to think. If there's something on your mind, something you can't cope with, a run can make that thing seems not so complicated.
"Sometimes the hardest thing you can do is get your trainers on and get your butt out the door, but I've never come back from a run unhappy. I'll be tired, but happy."
More than anything, Mr Edwards stressed how lucky he felt to have his wife, Wendy, and daughters, Gina and Cara.
He added: "The one rock I've had is my wife and daughters. Without them I don't think I'd be here, I think I would have done something stupid. It's good to have a strong family behind you."