Terence Haynes weighed 429 pounds just more than a year ago. He described himself as living in denial about his weight.
Paul Scianna / AP Enlarge
BEREA, Ohio - At 45, Terence Haynes kept alive a decades-old dream to compete in sports by shedding 200 pounds and earning a spot to wrestle as a heavyweight against collegians half his age.
Mr. Haynes, who weighed 429 pounds just more than a year ago, dropped to 228 pounds on a 5-foot, 9 1/2-inch frame while wrestling at Baldwin-Wallace College. His bulging arm and neck muscles testify to a relentless workout routine meant to exorcise a 15,000-calorie-a-day eating habit.
He finished the season Saturday with a 2-13 record, but he plans to compete in the shot put for the track team this spring and hopes to return to wrestling next season.
"I feel that once I get more experience behind my belt, my records will improve tremendously," said Mr. Haynes, who returned to college after a quarter-century break. He is pursuing a degree in computer information systems.
Mr. Haynes listens to coach Rich Fleming before a match against Heidelberg University. He finished the season 2-13 at Baldwin-Wallace College and hopes to return to wrestling next season.
Mark Duncan / AP Enlarge
Wrestling fulfilled a childhood dream for Mr. Haynes to compete in athletics. He didn't get past junior high school wrestling but had a dream to play football in college. Too slow, he didn't get a look from major-college scouts and gave up on competitive sports for decades.
A year into his weight-loss program, Mr. Haynes - a heavyweight - was spotted on campus last fall by an assistant coach who recruited him. The irony of his smaller but still heavyweight-qualifying size wasn't lost on Baldwin-Wallace wrestling coach Rich Fleming, who expected Mr. Haynes to quit under the practice demands.
"What impressed me was the fact that he wanted to do it," Mr. Fleming said. "He's inspirational because at 45, you know it hurts. Wrestling hurts when you're young, let alone at 45."
Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., said he knew of no other wrestler of Mr. Haynes' age who has competed at the NCAA level.
"I think it's unprecedented," he said.
Mr. Haynes said his problem with overeating was a reaction to the daily grind - paying bills and the demands of work. He credits a personal trainer, Paul Scianna, with getting him on track to lose weight.
"What he said was I was going to die if I didn't so something about this. I knew that, but I was in great denial for quite some time," Mr. Haynes said.
Mr. Haynes, pre-diet, had a routine: get that feel-good response from working out and then go out for fast-food, maybe three or four Big Macs at McDonald's. He was careful to pay cash, so his wife would be unaware that he had had a big meal before he sat down to the dinner she had prepared.
The exercise-and-eat routine made sense in his mind. "Because I have to make this equal, because it's not like I'm really trying to lose weight because the gym is like a spa. I'm enjoying myself."
Mr. Haynes, whose former girth would match the size of a roomy recliner, compared his dependence on food to a Band-Aid covering up his problems. "I was in a delusional state," said Mr. Haynes, a supervisor at a residential treatment center for troubled teens.
He enjoys the interaction with teammates half his age. His coach appreciates Mr. Haynes' efforts but understands he's probably overmatched on the mat, even at the small-college, non-scholarship NCAA Division III level.
In January, Mr. Haynes prepared for a match against Heidelberg University's Tony Carothers by stepping away from the bench, rocking gently on his feet and stretching in a routine that lasted longer than the match. He was pinned by Mr. Carothers in 40 seconds.
"He's a pretty big guy out there," Mr. Carothers, 24, said. "I was a little nervous. I mean, he's 45 years old. I thought I was like, probably a little stronger and whatnot, but to be out there and do this and be 45 years old takes a lot. I didn't know what to expect."
Looking back, neither did Mr. Haynes. "I can't believe that there was a treasure box just opened and I came out of it, finally."