Shaving Off The Pounds
“For years people called me Big Mike, but I never took it as a fat joke,” says Mike Hopper. Hopper is big. He stands at 6′1″ and weighs around 200 pounds today, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that he realized he might have a problem. Since that fall, Hopper has lost more than 115 pounds following a strict plan with celebrity trainer Obi Obadike. In fact, the Hanover man was so successful that he’s featured in Obadike’s new book “The Cut” and will appear on “The Steve Harvey Show” this week. “I never realized how big I was,” the 34-year-old said of the way he saw himself before a 2015 trip to El Salvador. Members of the First Baptist Church were planning to take a trip to their sister congregation in Central America and the church band, in which Hopper plays guitar, was invited to go along. Hopper’s fear of planes elicited an immediate refusal, but as time went on he considered the trip. Finally, during a church meeting, Hopper said he felt a “stirring of the spirit” and knew he needed to go. Hopper went out to buy new clothes for the trip, stopping at three different Walmart stores to find his size 46 shorts and XXXL T-shirts. He knew he’d let himself go a bit since he married his wife a decade ago, but he didn’t feel like he was that bad off. At the airport in Louisville, Hopper began to realize that he needed a change. “I get on the airplane, I go to buckle my seatbelt and it’s an inch from buckling. That’s when I knew there was a problem.” For the rest of trip, he said, his fellow travelers noticed that Hopper began making constant fat jokes about himself. When he got back home, Hopper joined the gym at Hanover College’s Horner Center and started to watch his diet a bit. He lost a few pounds, but hovered right around 314 pounds. As a younger man, Hopper was always interested in fitness and healthy bodybuilding. He used to attend the gym on a near-daily basis in his early twenties. But, he said, once he “got the girl” and married his wife, Michele, he relaxed into a new, less healthy pattern. On a September day in 2015, Hopper was up to his usual routine. He’d made a stop at Taco Bell for a chicken quesadilla meal with a chalupa and a few added tacos. He went home to eat and was browsing Facebook when he came upon a post from Obadike. He learned about Obadike years earlier after reading a few articles in a health and fitness magazine. In the post, Obadike called for people 30-40 pounds overweight to potentially join at 12-week program focus group for his newest book. Hopper knew he was more than 40 pounds overweight, but thought he’d give it a shot. He finished his Taco Bell, took off his shirt, snapped a photo and sent it to Obadike along with his story. Four days later Obadike called back saying that Hopper’s case would be an extra challenge working with a more average guy - “you can’t get more average than me,” Hopper joked. Though he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep up with the routine, Hopper told Obadike, “if I have a guy like you telling me what to do and what to eat, I’d be an idiot not to do it.” Beginning on September 20, he followed Obadike’s plan carefully. In 12 weeks he dropped 57 pounds - the most of anyone in the focus group. Then, Obadike stuck with Hopper for three more months, bringing his weight loss to 97 pounds. For the six month period, Hopper would send a weekly email to Obadike updating him on his weight. In return, Obadike would send him some meal options for the week and his fitness plan, making adjustments when needed. The two men only met for the first time two weeks ago when they traveled to Chicago to film “The Steve Harvey Show.” The show, featuring Hopper’s brief appearance with Obadike and co-author and actor Morris Chestnut, is set to air Wednesday. During filming, Hopper said, he recalled the airplane story for Harvey. “Until that seatbelt didn’t fit, I didn’t think I was that overweight... Before, I liked the idea of losing weight, but I wasn’t mentally prepared. I didn’t have my mind set up.” A year and a half later, working a day in his Mulberry Street barbershop isn’t as hard on his body. Hopper said the difference in the way he feels is “night and day.” When his wife would want to go for walk or hike, he just couldn’t do it. And playing with his nephews was restricted to wrestling around on the floor. “Now they ride their bikes and I chase after them,” he said. “I climbed the tree to get my nephew out of it a few weeks ago. There’s no way I was climbing the tree two years ago.” At the barbershop, Hopper said some of his customers who spend the winter in warmer climates had a hard time believing their eyes when they returned. Some thought he’d had surgery or was seriously ill. One of his regulars returned from Florida last spring and didn’t even recognize him. “He said, ‘does Mike still work here?’,” Hopper remembered. ”‘Is Mike going to be back today? I want to wait on him.’ ‘Well, I am Mike,’ Hopper said. ‘No, fat Mike. He’s a big old boy.’” As he continues his journey, Hopper said he has no definite number set as a weight loss goal, but he’s more focused on his body fat percentage. He’s near 18 percent now, he’d like to get down to 10 or 12. By 2020, he’d like to write his own fitness or lifestyle book to write from the perspective of someone who’s actually been overweight. While Obadike’s book is great, he said, “at the end of the day he really can’t relate to me because he doesn’t know the struggles I went through.?“If I can motivate one out of shape person to get off the couch and exercise, that was the goal.” To those who have already asked him for advice, Hopper tells them that they have to make a real change like he did, and stick with it. “Unless you’re prepared to do it for life and actually want to change your lifestyle, you might as well not do it.” There’s a statistic somewhere, Hopper said, that about 90 percent of the people who try fad diets, quick fixes or surgeries gain their weight back. “I’m going to be that 10 percent,” he said.