Sumner Co. man goes from 426 lbs. to fitness business owner, role model

Friday, January 3, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 1
By Hollie Deese

Sumner County resident Richard Neal lost 247 pounds in 18 months. He now owns a fitness business in White House and helps others with weight issues.

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Three years ago, Richard Neal weighed 426 pounds. His doctors told him he might not make it to age 30 – or have children.

Today, Neal, 29, is hundreds of pounds lighter and very much alive, thanks to working out, healthy eating, a support system that includes his numerous followers on social media, and his young son, Brady.

“If life were any better, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” he says.

After learning his starting weight by stepping on the scale at his local recycling center, Neal set a goal to lose 200 pounds in one year.

He began working out with a P90X video at home that a friend gave him, but he needed additional motivation to stay on track.

He started a fit club in Portland, Tenn., placing a free ad in the local paper.

Kim Duke, looking to lose 30 pounds, was the first person who signed up. Her friendship with Neal evolved as they encouraged each other through their weight-loss goals. Now the two are partners in life, health and work, and together they operate K-n-R Fitness in White House.

They both host radio programs – hers is about bodybuilding, his about weight loss. They travel the country and beyond inspiring others.

They are life and health coaches devoted to inspiring their thousands of followers on social media.

Neal spoke with the Nashville Ledger about accountability, moving beyond your past, and the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong support system when getting fit in the New Year.

Q: How long has it been since you first lost the weight?

A: “I just surpassed my three-year anniversary.’’

Q: Did you celebrate?

A: “Yeah, I think I wanted to go work out. Actually, I posted a video on YouTube like I usually do.

“Being alive is really a celebration, and being able to do what I do every day, I get to relive it and celebrate it every day.”

Q: Had you always been heavy?

A: “Yes, I had been obese since childhood. Being healthy and living a new, healthy lifestyle is like learning how to walk again from being paralyzed. So it is definitely a very interesting, colorful life.’’

Q: Had you tried and failed a few times before your success?

A: “It was always one of those things where I felt like I should be dependent on somebody else. There was no way I was ever going to be able to do it by myself without somebody else telling me exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“Until I was ready to take my life in my own hands and fully put in the work, and still accept that God would give me strength to move on every single day, and the guidance to point me in the right direction.

Q: What was it about the last time that made you stay with it?

A: “I took personal accountability for myself, and I had a team of friends who I surrounded myself with, people on Facebook, who supported me.

“I started a fit club in Portland and committed to my fit club on a weekly basis, twice a week. And I just pretty much committed to myself.

Kim Duke was the first person to respond to Richard Neal’s newspaper ad seeking workout partners. They have turned their fitness success into fitness business, radio programs and motivational speaking.

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“I said, “You know what? If I want to do this I’m going to commit myself to one year.” And there was nothing really that I had to start and stop.

“Before that I would think it was a good idea to lose weight and get healthy, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t really want to put the work in.

“But when I started the fit club, I began to pay it forward to help other people do the very same thing while I was doing my journey.

“I held myself accountable to my coach, to my friends, to my team, and to a lot of other people to where I knew I wouldn’t fail.’’

Q: How long did it take you to lose the weight?

A: “I lost my first 200 pounds in one year. I lost 242 pounds total in 18 months. But my initial goal was to lose 200 pounds in one year, and the rest was just for giggles because of the Beach Body Challenge [Neal won $100,000 as the 2012 Beachbody Challenge Winner through P90X].

“But it was exactly what I needed to learn to control my food addictions, control my life and how I was going to live it every single day.’’

Q: What was the reaction of your loved ones after you set this incredible goal, then reached it?

“Honestly, some had a hard time accepting it. We are all afraid of change in some sense. But some people celebrated it, and celebrated it with me. They were very proud of me.

“I was able to get a closer relationship with my Mom through it. She had never been out of Tennessee before, much less out of Portland in years, and when I got invited to New York by People magazine, I was blessed enough to be able to take her with me. We were able to experience that time together, which brought us closer.

“You do change during a weight-loss journey. You get more confident, you feel better, you look better, you start to be conscious about the things that you do, the things that you say, the way you eat things, the way that you drink things – you become overall conscious about life in general.

“For people who have been around you for your whole life, they are used to viewing you a specific way.

“And if you change, then they almost have to change with you because you become a new person. And for some people that is hard to accept.

“They woke up one day and all the sudden they didn’t see this big, 426-pound Richard Neal anymore.

“They saw a guy who had a spark for life and wanted to live life and not only that, being a role model for his son, who his doctor once told he couldn’t have.’’

Q: What would you say to someone who has tried and failed again?

A: “Kim and I get this question all the time, and we always say that you can’t expect to really do it alone. The best way to do it is to surround yourself with like-minded people who have the same goals and the same dreams and the same aspirations that you want to achieve in your life.

“If you’re trying to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, it’s good to get plugged into a group or a community of like-minded people who want to lose weight, get healthy and live a more fulfilling life every single day. That is what we’re able to offer to our groups.

“It’s all private, and it’s people all around the world who are going through the same thing. It’s a support system that we were able to develop, and we are now doing on a daily basis, coaching others to not only get started, but follow through and follow-up.’’

Q: How did you and Kim meet?

A: “When I started the fit club in Portland, I put an ad in the newspaper. I wanted to make sure that the fit club was for the entire community to come and join and have a good time.

“And she was the first person who called and inquired. It started from a friendship honestly, and that’s the beautiful thing. We had a lot of common goals.

Q: Kim (Duke), how were you inspired by Richard (Neal)?

A: “My inspiration in the beginning came from him. I was just 30 pounds overweight, and I was complaining because I was sweating and I didn’t like it. Then there he was, 426 pounds, and he was really doing whatever he could.

“There was no way that I could ever make an excuse when I would see him working so hard at his size. He definitely inspired me just to keep pushing, and his positive attitude really inspired me.’’

Q: From bookkeeper to bodybuilder - that’s quite a leap.

A: “Sitting behind a computer all day long really fed my addiction, which was sweets. I was living a very stressful life, and I was a stress eater. So I would stress trying to perfect things, and I would just continue to binge I was never putting good food in my body because I was just too busy. So to get energy, I’d grab chocolate and caffeine.

“When I did start exercising, I realized I liked to move. I didn’t like being sedentary anymore and eventually, 10 months into my journey, I quit my job and I became a coach full-time. I have two children, two girls 13 and 17, so I don’t like to see moms use their kids as an excuse, or their busy life as excuse, because if you have to sacrifice to get up early or stay up late, then you do what you have to do just to take care of yourself, too.

“We all know if we take care of ourselves we’re going to have more to offer other people.’’

Q: Is it hard to balance body image with girls?

A: “My goal at the beginning was to have them look up to me because it could go either way. As moms, we serve other people, and we feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do.

“There’s guilt when we take time for ourselves and feel like we should be using that time elsewhere.

“But I was trying to show my girls they can do anything that you set your mind to it, and I wanted them to see that if you put it in front of you, you can actually achieve it.

“I didn’t want them to feel like there wasn’t anything that they couldn’t reach either.’’

“To go back when you asked about how people reacted when I changed, and I don’t want to say that it happens to all relationships, but unfortunately my ex-wife and I were unable to salvage our marriage.

“She was one of those people who woke up one morning and said “I don’t know who you are, and I’m not exactly sure if I want to know who you are …

“And you try to salvage your relationships. You pray to God and ask him for understanding and patience and all that good stuff.’’

“Shortly after my ex-wife approached me to get a divorce, I turned to my best friend, Kim. And it turned out that Kim was going through a similar situation.

“That’s why we have a couples counseling group to help couples work through these issues and communicate to their closest friends and family and loved ones and spouses to help the relationship.

“I used to get picked on every day at school, come home and get picked on at home, receive abuse from my stepfather. I was told I was never going to amount to anything my whole life so many times I eventually started to believe it.

“I got poor grades in school and didn’t set goals because I was afraid to make goals just to fail. You relive those moments every single day.

“When something tragic happens, [being raised in a family with alcoholism]... that is where a lot of the weight comes from. That’s where addiction comes from.

“Food is a huge addiction and a huge problem that we all face on a daily basis. And a lot of people don’t know it.

“With drugs and alcohol, people can see that when someone drinks too much, there’s a problem. If they do too many drugs, there’s a problem. The people can’t see that the very thing closest to us, which is food, is public enemy No. 1 that is killing us.

“And that is where Kim and I really have a passion of being able to speak publicly.

“We travel all over the nation speaking to thousands of people and groups about our teachings. It’s a very fulfilling life.’’

Q: What were your previous occupations?

A: “Kim was a bookkeeper, and I worked third shift at a call center. It was a very sedentary life.”

Q: You guys are both all over Facebook. Has social media made you more accountable?

“Definitely. Since day one, before the private groups even started, I started posting all of my sweaty pictures after every workout and started posting every single dish of food that I ate, every day, to hold myself accountable.

“We love that we are able to help people all around the nation and all around the world versus just focusing locally, even though we are helping a lot of locals to.

Q: Where do you like to grab a quick, healthy meal?

A: “I love Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville. The quality is amazing, and they have so many good healthy options. And it is all whole foods so you don’t have to worry about any type of processing.

“If we are in Nashville we will go to Jason’s Deli. You can almost go anywhere and modify any of their dishes. If you go for Mexican, don’t eat the basket of chips they put in front of you. Stick with lean meats, chicken, turkey, and fish, and get steamed veggies with no butter. Almost every place serves grilled chicken and steamed veggies.’’

Q: Do you and Kim work out together?

“We do work out together. Since we work from home and sleep at home and eat at home, we do everything at home. We do go to the gym in White House, throw on our headphones and bust out our work out for the day before we get back at it.

“We work out a minimum of three days a week, a majority of six days a week. It just depends what type of program we are doing and what our goals are. If we are between goals and just need to maintain, then we adjust to maintain.

"As far as getting started for the New Year, our main focus is teaching people to get started and schedule accordingly for their goals.

Q: Other than physically, how has losing weight really changed your life?

A: “Losing weight has completely changed my life from front to back. It’s great to be inside magazines and to be listed on 20/20 and winning $100,000. But being able to pay it forward and teach people how they can do it too is more fulfilling than anything. Just sharing my story is changing lives.’’