From the Couch to the Finish Line

01/02/2014
Lisa Fontaine

Joel Guerra had been overweight for most of his life. At the age of 36, he weighed 288 pounds and anticipated he was destined for a life of health problems. What he hadn’t anticipated was that God had a different plan.

 

Joel and his wife have been members of Saddleback Church since the mid 1990s. On March 3, 2007, Pastor Rick spoke about the need to be healthy in order to fulfill God’s plan for our lives. He challenged anyone carrying a little extra weight to write down the number of pounds they would like to lose on a response card and drop it in the offering basket. Inspired by the challenge, Joel wrote down the number “25” and placed his card in the basket. He had struggled with weight loss for so many years, but he was hopeful that this might finally be the time that the pounds would come off and stay off. Joel’s wife was a little more skeptical about his commitment that day. When she saw the number “25” on the card, she rolled her eyes and wished him good luck. She had seen Joel’s weight increase over the years since they had met at the age of 19. “There seems to be a cumulative effect between the number of years married and weight gain,” he jokes. Joel’s wife had also seen him try countless times over the years to lose the extra pounds only to be unsuccessful and discouraged.

Unbeknownst to Joel at the time, that 25-pound commitment he simply wrote on a card would mark the beginning of a life-changing journey. He said he didn’t feel any differently or didn’t hear God speak to him that day. He just wrote a number on a card and dropped it into a basket. But it was at that moment that his new life began. “God had just enrolled me in Daniel Plan 1.0,” he says.

The next morning when he awoke, Joel said that God had taken over his physical life. He had not exercised in years, but that day he took a short walk. He had never paid any attention to eating a healthy diet, but that day he began to view food differently and change his diet. “My life-long battle with my weight changed that day because God grabbed a hold of me and changed my heart,” he notes.

The six years that followed would be full of healthy choices, weight loss, and physical, mental, and spiritual transformation. It was a long road, but today Joel is 70 pounds lighter and has learned that life is much more fulfilling fit than fat. This radical transformation in his life helped him realize his passion for fitness. A few years back, he discovered the sport of triathlon, and since that pivotal day when he dropped the card in the basket, he has competed in 31 triathlons. Just last month, Joel participated in the Ironman Arizona, a race consisting of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of running. Collectively, he has swam, biked, and run approximately 20,000 miles in the past six years. Joel proudly wears his Multisport Ministries jersey with Philippians 4:13 emblazoned on the side and a big cross on the back every time he races.

To Joel, there is no greater way to worship the Lord than being outdoors enjoying God’s beauty while doing what he was created to do. Along his journey, Joel has continuously thanked God for giving him the ability and desire to be fit. “Only God knew that the fat guy sitting in church six years ago was about to embark on a life-changing adventure. I could not and would not have done any of this on my own,” he recounts.

Joel suspects that he is about to begin another adventure. He recently approached the Daniel Plan table on the patio after church and uttered the two words that Pastor Rick says are the two most dangerous and exciting words a Christian can say: “use me.” Joel knows that God does not give us pain without purpose. “I was overweight for the first 36 years of my life. That was painful. Now I want to use that part of my life to help others.”  Joel has discovered so many things about life and himself over the past six years, and today he feels more alive and passionate than ever.  He knows God has equipped him with the tools to serve others, and he is excited to see where God leads him next. According to Joel, he is blessed to be a blessing to others. “It took a few years for me to discover my purpose, and I pray that God uses me for His glory.”  

Looking in the mirror today, Joel sees a changed man. Others do, too. Some friends recently saw Joel and his wife’s wedding picture, and they were confused as to who the man was in the photo. He looked nothing like Joel, so they thought that perhaps Joel’s wife had been previously married. But the man in that picture was pre-Daniel Plan Joel. In a sense, that man no longer exists. “I have grown immensely on the inside and have shrunk on the outside,” he says. “I am so happy to be a role model of physical and spiritual health for my family.”  

In January, Joel will be holding an informational meeting about the sport of triathlon. For more information, please email joelg@saddlebackvolunteer.com.

Click here to learn more about The Daniel Plan.