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‘Walking saved my life’: How 1 man walked his way to a 222-pound weight loss

Nick Bricker’s first 10-minute walk felt like a triathlon. Now he has a goal of hitting one million steps for the month of June.

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In 2018, Philadelphia Eagles fan Nick Bricker was watching his team win the Super Bowl when he decided it was time for him to make a change. “I was a very, very heavy drinker and a heavy smoker — 35 to 40 beers a night and two packs of cigarettes every day,” he says.

His weight had climbed to 437 pounds, and he needed a rescue inhaler to help him breathe, medicine to control acid reflux and two different medicines to lower his blood pressure. “My breathing was so bad I had to live in the guest room on the first floor because I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my bedroom,” he says. 

Today, the 52-year-old’s breathing problems are gone, his acid reflux has cleared, and he expects to get off his blood pressure medication soon. His pulmonologist told him his lung function was back to 100%, up from 30%. And not only can he climb the stairs in his house, but he also walks about 12 miles, or 25,000 to 30,000 steps, a day. 

“I look back at older pictures and I get angry at myself. But the positive thing is that I did something about it,” he says.

Nick Bricker weight loss
After losing 222 pounds, Nick Bricker and his son can now fit in his old shorts — together.Courtesy Nick Bricker

He broke two bad habits cold turkey

“I was watching the Super Bowl, and the clock was ticking down. There was a second left, and I got up, dumped my beer in the sink and put my cigarettes in the trash. I said, ‘I’m done.’” At first, he thought he would quit smoking and drinking for a month. That month turned into two, then five, and he decided he was done for good.

But the weight didn’t come off, even though he estimated that quitting drinking cut 8,000 calories a day from his intake. He thought his metabolism had changed to the point where he would never be able to lose weight. He was still eating large portions of foods like pizza, wings and cheesesteaks, though. “Bread was part of every meal, and if I went out to eat with my wife and son, I’d finish whatever we brought home,” he says.

Nick Bricker weight loss
After dinner, Bricker used to sit on the couch, drinking beer and watching TV, now he goes for a walk.Courtesy Nick Bricker

Fear of COVID got him moving

Two years passed and Bricker’s weight was unchanged. Then the pandemic hit. “When we went into lockdown, I took it very seriously. With my health problems, I knew if I got COVID, I would be toast,” he says.

For years, he had said he would make changes “tomorrow.” Tomorrow never came. But this time, he did it. He started up a treadmill he had never used and walked for ten minutes at 1 mile per hour. “I felt like I had finished a triathlon,” he said. He stuck with it, and after a couple of months he could walk for 20 minutes at 1.5 miles per hour. 

He kept walking, and the pounds started to come off. When he could walk for 20 to 30 minutes at 2.5 miles per hour, he started walking outdoors. He created challenges for himself on the bridges and boardwalks in and around his coastal New Jersey home, increasing his distance. He also started walking for two miles on the treadmill every night before bed.

Bricker’s job as a realtor gives him a flexible schedule. He’ll often work in the mornings and walk at lunchtime or play golf and walk in the afternoons. Since his job requires him to spend a lot of time on the phone, he can walk and work at the same time. “I’m more effective than I would be sitting in an office, wishing I wasn’t there,” he says.

Nick Bricker weight loss
Bricker's old diet was filled with carbs, fried foods and lots of sweets.Courtesy Nick Bricker

He overhauled his diet

When Bricker started walking, he also drastically changed how he was eating. He cut out bread, pizza, fried foods, potatoes, rice, sweets and just about anything high in carbs, sugar or fat. He switched to foods like yogurt, peanut butter, smoothies, lots of veggies, lean proteins and salad.

“I’ve eaten a lot of salad over the past two years, and I’ve come to love it,” he says. “People think when you change your diet, you’re sacrificing, but you’re not. There are so many substitutes. I found a tofu burger I would eat over any cheeseburger from anywhere.”

He also drinks a lot of water and club soda, which he finds is a good replacement for the beer he gave up.

Nick Bricker weight loss
“I’ve probably added 25 years to my life," Nick Bricker says.Courtesy Nick Bricker

He made steady weight-loss progress

Bricker lost a pound or two a week and kept to a strict diet while losing weight. “For Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays, I would eat a piece of grilled chicken,” he says.

Now he maintains his weight at 215, which feels right for him. And since late 2022, he’s started incorporating more foods into his diet, particularly on special occasions. But he’s cautious — he knows if he went back to his old way of eating, he’d regain the weight and reverse the improvements he’s seen in his health. That’s not something he wants to give up: “I’ve probably added 25 years to my life.”

My mindset for ten years was, ‘Tomorrow I’ll do it.’ But until today is that tomorrow, it’ll never happen.”

My mindset for ten years was, ‘Tomorrow I’ll do it.’ But until today is that tomorrow, it’ll never happen.”

Nick Bricker

He’s switched to an active lifestyle

After dinner, Bricker used to sit on the couch, drinking beer and watching TV until it was time for bed. Now, he’ll play tennis with his wife, or they’ll go for a walk or a bike ride. He also got back into golfing, which he couldn’t do after gaining weight. 

Sharing activities with his son is one of the biggest benefits of his weight loss. “For years, he had wanted to do things, and I wasn’t able to. I physically couldn’t do it. That was part of my motivation — I didn’t want to never be able to do anything with him,” he says.

“When I was young, I was skinny as a rail. I was an avid surfer, skateboarder, BMXer, snowboarder and skier. That was my life. The drinking is what changed it all. Instead of going surfing, I’d go to the bar. Now I’m doing it all again, and I can do it with my son.”

He’s seen other benefits to his weight loss, too. In addition to his health improvements, he’s more comfortable driving. He used to keep his car seat pushed all the way back, but the steering wheel would still rub against his belly. Now, he has a one-foot gap. And if he sees a golf shirt he likes at the pro shop, he can buy it. When he wore a 5XL, most places didn’t carry his size.

Nick Bricker weight loss
Nick Bricker has lost half his body weight and can now participate in the activities he loves like surfing, skateboarding, skiing and BMX biking.Courtesy Nick Bricker

He shared his success online in Start TODAY

On June 1, 2023, his wife was watching the TODAY show and saw a segment about the Start TODAY Facebook group’s June walking challenge. She encouraged him to join the group, and he shared his story online. “I figured if it helps one person, good, and if it helps two people, even better,” he says. It impacted a lot more people than that. He got more than 4,000 likes and almost 800 positive and encouraging comments.

He never tracked his steps until he joined the group. Now he hits a minimum of 12,000 steps a day and averages 25,000. His next goal is to hit one million steps a month, which would take 33,333 steps per day. 

He says, “The one thing I’ve learned through this whole experience is, if you put your mind to anything, you can do it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. My mindset for ten years was, ‘Tomorrow I’ll do it.’ But until today is that tomorrow, it’ll never happen.”