Health & Family

Vinson Smith’s story: How I went from 500 pounds to 240

Mallard Creek High junior varsity coach Vinson Smith with players James Smith, left, and Javon Harbison.
Mallard Creek High junior varsity coach Vinson Smith with players James Smith, left, and Javon Harbison.

Vinson Smith is an emotional eater. He knew that for certain after his father died young of liver cancer, while Smith was heading into his senior year at A.L. Brown High School. An overweight backup offensive lineman on the football team, Smith ate his way up to 500 pounds.

Three years later, with no college diploma, no job, Smith knew he had to lose weight if he was going to build a happy and stable life. He started walking “stop sign to stop sign” and eventually got so serious about fitness that he became a certified personal trainer.

Now Smith, 27, is 260 pounds lighter, has his own consulting business as a personal trainer, serves as junior varsity offensive line and strength coach for Mallard Creek High School and is enrolling at UNC Charlotte to finish his college degree. The self-professed “people person” leans on mentors and fellow coaches for emotional support, rather than food.

“I remember after Vince graduated, he would come to practice and lean up on the wall there at Bullock Gym looking down on the practice field watching practice,” said Alex Nelson, former assistant coach at A.L. Brown, now defensive backs coach for the varsity and JV head coach at Mallard Creek. “To remember what he looked like then to what he looks like now, it’s crazy. We give him a hard time now because when we order coaches’ gear, everybody is giving out their sizes, and Vince wants a medium or a large, and we’re just like, ‘There’s no way you can wear that,’ but yeah, he’s doing it.”

Here is Smith’s story in his own words:

The challenge

“A lot of my weight gain came into play after losing my dad at the age of 16, and after football was over, trying to find that path as a man: ‘What am I going to do next?’ I’m an emotional eater. I used to eat for crazy insane reasons – because the bird across the street was chirping on a Tuesday. So Wednesday, I’d order four Big Macs. I would eat ridiculous amounts of food. I can remember when my mom would fix a pot of spaghetti for the family and a pot of spaghetti for me. Your family can be your biggest enablers. All my mother saw was that her baby was hungry …

“I was the fat funny guy, like the cartoon character Peter Griffin from Family Guy …

“I woke up and realized if I ever want to be a business owner, if I wanted the American dream with a house, a wife and to raise a family, you can’t do that at 500 pounds. How many 500-pound people do you know, walk around being successful?

“(Getting to) 225 was never a goal, when I was sitting at 500. The goal was just to lose weight, get smaller. But with every 20 pounds that came off, a new goal emerged. I never intended to get into personal training, I just knew that I wanted more out of life. I didn’t want to be in the same situation; it didn’t matter what came. I could have been the best IT guy out there. I could have been the best mechanic. It didn’t matter what it was. I just wanted to get out of it the situation I was in desperately.”

How I did it

“At the time, I was living at home. Nobody is going to hire someone who is 500 pounds. First thing they’ll think is ‘They’re lazy.’ I didn’t have a job coming out of high school. I was thinking ‘How am I going to lose weight if I can’t join a gym?’ When your back is against the wall, you’ll find a way. I started walking from stop sign to stop sign ….

“(I got my) first job at Sears Portrait Studio in Carolina Mall. A good friend and teammate from high school, his mom was a manager there. I took pictures and put together packages for people. I joined a gym. I started coaching too (as a volunteer at Mallard Creek). The workouts I made up for kids, I would do as well …

“I started to get a handle on nutrition. When you’re a fat boy by nature, and you like food, it’s hard. I started making healthier choices, becoming a label reader – ‘What are the ingredients of what I’m eating?’ – and looking up what they are. Nobody starts off by turning into a body-building pro. It’s making smarter choices, cutting back, not going to McDonald’s, or if you go to McDonald’s, it’s picking the lesser of evils. I developed better habits …

“Once you know what kind of eater you are, it’s easier to convert those bad habits. Instead of feeling depressed and down and eating 100 chicken wings, I’d go for a walk, eat an apple, and the craving is gone ….”

“As an ex-athlete I went with what I knew. I knew lifting weights was the key. A lot of people go to cardio. That’s what we’re taught: ‘I’ve got to run, run, run.’ I incorporated resistance training and weight training, which is key as to why the weight has stayed off. Even when I quit (at times), the weight never came back because of the amount of muscle that I had built. Your muscle helps burn the fat.”

The result

“I weighed in (recently) at 240. My goal is to weigh in at 225 (in September). Now that I’m getting closer to 30, one of my overall goals is for longevity. Initially I lost the weight to have a business, have a wife and kids. I don’t have a wife and kids yet. For me, probably, children will come later on in my 30s.

“So longevity is my key, being able to run around with a 6-year-old, still coach football while my daughter is playing volleyball. Being able to have energy to maintain a business and to be a father and a husband.”

What he learned

“I’ve always been a lovable guy, with plenty of friends in high school. It was still a cover-up, almost so people wouldn’t see what the real issue was. I was really insecure. There’s still a lot of soul-searching going on. Every layer that comes off, you find more of yourself .…

“What makes us human – one common thing we all have – is struggle and pain. As my dad used to say, ‘From the pulpit to the door, we have struggle and pain and that can bring us together.’ Your emotional support system is going to be big. My mentor Terry Davis, a fitness trainer, gives me everyday advice and advice for my lifting. He keeps my head on straight. All of our coaches at Mallard Creek are examples of how to be great men, great husbands and great fathers.”