Rediscovering Hope

Barkleys beforeIt is 6:30 a.m. at Fort Wayne Strength and Conditioning, and the gym is full. It's an early start for one young couple who begin to warm up as Eminem blares over the loudspeakers. The man laughs as his wife jokingly begins bouncing her knees and swinging her arms to the music before class starts. It would be difficult to tell the kind of journey they have taken on just by looking at them, but 2010 grads Josh and Heather Barkley barely resemble the couple they were just one year ago.

Last July, Josh weighed 375 pounds. Leading a fairly sedentary lifestyle, he lacked the energy to do much of anything after coming home from work every day. But when he and his wife began struggling to have children, his doctor told him that the weight was influencing their fertility.

"He suggested bariatric surgery, but I said no," said Josh, a professional studies degree graduate and president and owner of Barkley Builders Inc. "I put this weight on by myself; I can take it off by myself."

He contacted an old friend from high school, Fort Wayne Strength and Conditioning owner Justin Springer, after seeing his Facebook posts about opening a new gym. Springer coached Josh himself, and scaled the workouts so that he could begin the program even at his heaviest.

"He was the first person to ever ask me why I put on the weight," Josh said. "He wanted to know the mentality behind these choices I'd made so I could see the stressors and causes of my weight gain and prevent gaining it back."

Tragedy then struck when the couple suffered a miscarriage, and Josh and Heather decided that it was time to drop their unhealthy habits for good.
"After that whole three-week process, we were mentally and spiritually wrecked," he said, squeezing his wife's knee.

After cleaning the junk food out of their cupboards, they committed to following the Paleo diet more commonly known as the "Caveman Diet," consisting of the kind of foods available during the Paleolithic era and began exercising together. Their hard work paid off: Josh has dropped 140 pounds to date with Heather shedding 40 pounds alongside him. The physical changes alone in their new life were radical.

"The small things really made a difference, such as buying clothes in normal clothing stores where I wasn't a 4 XL-size shirt anymore," Josh said. "Or being able to buy just one seat on a flight instead of two, sit in a booth at a restaurant, or ride on a roller coaster."

Heather also felt incredibly changed through the process.

"It's more than just weight loss," said Heather, a master's degree graduate and associate director of marketing for graduate and professional programs at HU. "It's strengthened by faith. I'm learning to be a holistic being, and seeing how physical health and spirituality are all intertwined."

The couple has grown much closer through their experiences with a new dedication to healthy living and their struggles with infertility.

"We do more together now," Heather said. "We challenge and encourage each other. We have more energy and it's a lot more fun. Josh is a hundred miles an hour now."

The Barkleys mention their faith time and time again when they describe their journey. Heather believes her usual perfectionist attitude has been humbled, and she's been taught dependence by God through this difficult walk. Josh believes his relationship with God and with Heather has never been stronger.

"In going through all these hardships in our walk of faith, we're reminded that God is always in control, and this is happening for a reason," he said. "If we can't conceive our own, there are so many children needing adoption. Ultimately, these trials have helped me relate to other people and draw closer to my wife and closer to God."

Josh and Heather completed their fourth six-week "Best Shape of Your Life Challenge" through their gym in December. It was a reminder that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a daily battle.

Josh is continuing to strive to become competition-ready and hopes to become a coach himself some day. Heather has maintained her 40-pound weight loss, and her focus now is on strength training.

Josh and Heather are also continuing their journey toward becoming parents. They have completed the home study process for adoption, and have created a photo book that their adoption agency will give to birth parents as they choose the parents for their child. They are officially on a waiting list with the adoption agency.

"The end goal is still what it always has been we want to have kids," Josh said. "We just had no idea it would turn into so much more."