2017-08-11 / Neighbors

Determined veteran wins long battle against obesity

Daniel Pena wins $100K in Beachbody Challenge
By Hector Gonzalez

Daniel Pena’s “before” photo reveals the frustration in his eyes.

The picture was taken four years ago when the Simi Valley man weighed 350 pounds, which is considered morbidly obese.

He didn’t start out that way.

“I played high school sports, so out of high school I was in decent shape,” said the veteran U.S. Army reservist.

Right after graduating from Montgomery Bishop High in Torrance in 1987 Pena enlisted and went on to have a 10-year career in the military, serving in Operation Desert Storm in 1990- 91. It was after he retired from the military in 1997 that he began seriously packing on the pounds, the cyber-security expert said.

“I’d tried dieting and stuff over those 20-some years that I was big and obese,” said Pena, now 48. “My wife would always try to nudge me along to lose the weight. It’s not like I didn’t try anything. But it was all just diets, and it just didn’t work, because I never really worked at it.”


TRANSFORMATION—Daniel Pena, 48, lost more than 180 pounds over the course of 20 months. Last month he was named a grand-prize winner of the annual Beachbody Challenge, taking home a $100,000 prize. At right, Pena works out at his Simi Valley home Aug. 3. 
Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers TRANSFORMATION—Daniel Pena, 48, lost more than 180 pounds over the course of 20 months. Last month he was named a grand-prize winner of the annual Beachbody Challenge, taking home a $100,000 prize. At right, Pena works out at his Simi Valley home Aug. 3. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers But in the spring of 2013 Pena changed his life habits. As he proudly watched his younger daughter graduate from Simi Valley High School, he was suddenly struck by the thought that he might not be around to see his two daughters get married and raise kids of their own, he said.

He started eating healthier. With his wife, Iris, he began hiking trails near his home. He joined Hyperion Fitness, a local gym that offers outdoor exercise classes, and started working out to videos he ordered from Beachbody, which sponsors weekly, monthly and annual weight-loss challenges.


BEFORE—Daniel Pena weighed 350 pounds before he began his transformation in 2013. BEFORE—Daniel Pena weighed 350 pounds before he began his transformation in 2013. After years of “self-sabotaging” his weight-loss efforts, Pena said, this time he took a realistic approach, setting short-range goals he could easily shoot for.

“It didn’t take me six months to gain all that weight, right? So I knew it was going to be a long road.”

Slowly but surely, he began to see results.

“The pounds slowly dropped, and that really motivated me to keep going,” he said. “Between the Beachbody programs and the hiking and eating better, in my first year alone I lost 100 pounds.

“I had small markers. For instance, when I was 275, I thought, ‘Hey, I can get to 225.’ When I got to 215, 220, I thought, ‘Wow, let me make it a stretch and get down below 200.”

Today, Pena weighs around 170 pounds—close to his high school weight, he said, and he regularly competes in 10K and half-marathon races.

In April 2016, he submitted his weight-loss story to Beachbody and won the Santa Monica-based company’s monthly challenge, which came with a $1,000 prize. He purchased a weight set with the cash, and the win also qualified

Pena for Beachbody’s annual weight-loss challenge.

Last month, Pena took first place in his age group in the annual competition, taking home a $100,000 grand prize. That works out to roughly $555 for each pound he lost.

“I lost 180 pounds in 20 months and have kept the weight off for over two years,” he said. “I do not know anyone else that can say they lost more weight than they currently weigh.”

Pena, who suffered military related hearing loss in one ear, finds it difficult to pinpoint what triggered his weight gain. Although he believes he came home from combat with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, his claim for disability benefits for PTSD was rejected by the Veterans Administration, he said.

But studies have shown a link between PTSD and excessive weight gain among combat vets diagnosed with the disorder. A 2015 study funded by the Army concluded that “PTSD is independently associated with a higher risk of weight gain and loss, the former of which leads to a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity.”

“It very well could have been PTSD,” Pena said of his weight gain. “It’s hard to say for certain.”

But the father of two clearly remembers the “aha” moment he had at his daughter’s graduation four years ago, when he realized that carrying all that extra weight posed a serious threat to his health.

“I didn’t see myself with (my family) in 10 years,” Pena said. “That really scared me. So that became my strongest reason to try one more time. I wanted to be here for my wife and kids.”

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