What do the Portland Trail Blazers, Gloria Estefan, a male lion at the Oregon Zoo, and Skid Row all have in common? They are all key players in the 70-pound weight loss journey of Metro facilities team member Alex Wilson.
Wilson's journey is less about weight than height though, specifically, 10 feet – his goal is to touch an NBA rim.
It's been a journey years in the making. Wilson has worked for the Trail Blazers since 1990, most recently as practice facility clubhouse attendant. When he talks about the team, it's "we," not "them." He credits watching the changes the players have made to create their own success with inspiring change in his own life.
"I saw that we were doing things the same way for a long time and we got the same results,” said Wilson. “We wouldn’t go to the playoffs, or maybe go the first round. So where I work is really inspiring.”
Wilson hit a plateau with his weight-loss after 11 months on a nutritional plan when his counselor suggested he increase his amount of exercise. He started running three miles, three times a week; then upped it to five miles, five times a week; then added 10 miles on the weekends.
“I didn’t think I could do that, but then I did it a few times and saw that I was able to do it," said Wilson. "That's when I really started losing a lot of weight.”
That flexibility, he said, is a testament to what he learned from the Blazers.
“If it’s not working out, just do something else. And that’s exactly what the Blazers did … now we have an attitude that we want to be successful, and so we had to change the way we did things," said Wilson. "So that’s what I did. I changed the way I did things, and these are the results. I can’t argue with them, they seem pretty good to me.”
Wilson likens his efforts to get fit to starting out in basketball. Players have a ball and a really high rim, he said, and they have to do everything they can to get the ball to go into that rim.
Wilson has a life-long love of basketball, and has dedicated his transformation to a longtime hoops buddy. His friend John Van Ert Jr., who died in 2011 of a heart attack, served as an inspiration for Wilson's work.
Alex’s speech starts to stutter as he shares Van Ert's story.
Van Ert lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles, suffering from drug addiction, when he was trapped in an alley by a group of men who wanted to take whatever he had.
The $40 in his pocket was everything to his name, so Van Ert crouched down like he was going for a touchdown and ran. He made it out. He decided he had to change his life, went into rehab, settled down and had a family.
“This guy made the most spectacular recovery," Wilson said. "In three years he went from Skid Row to a box at the Kentucky Derby.”
Even someone with such deep-rooted inspiration can have trouble lacing up for an early morning run occasionally. On those days Wilson turns to the arsenal of motivational techniques he’s built up to keep himself on track.
In May, while on a backstage tour of the Oregon Zoo, Wilson locked eyes with the zoo’s only male lion as he roared from a few feet away. Wilson remembers the power he saw in the lion when he is looking for his own inner strength.
As he stands on the track before each run, Wilson listens to Gloria Estefan’s “There’s Always Tomorrow.” “If you listen to those words,” Wilson said, “you can be motivated to make whatever change you need.”
On the really tough days Wilson imagines all of his friends filling up the track, all cheering him on; or the track filled with his girlfriend Cindy, “enough Cindys to fill an arena,” laughed Wilson.
Despite being a self-proclaimed “behind the scenes guy,” Wilson is excited that sharing his story may help others realize they can achieve their most difficult goals. His story is doing just that.
When his clinic posted Wilson’s before and after photo on its Facebook page, “It reached 1,000 likes in less than 24 hours,” said Erin Dunn, Wilson’s weight loss counselor. “He is a major inspiration for a lot of our clients.”
“I know that I can do a lot of things, it’s just a matter of how bad you want it, and I wanna touch the rim," Wilson said.
An earlier version of this article included an error. Wilson has worked for the Trail Blazers since 1990, most recently as practice facility clubhouse attendant. This version has been corrected.