All my life I’ve been very skinny, and in middle school I was bullied. People tried to put me down and I kept to myself. It got better in high school. I made friends, but the bullying had taken a toll on my confidence. I wasn’t taking care of myself; I’d eat fast food like burgers and pizza, and I was drinking crazy amounts of soda. I couldn’t gain weight and I felt bad. I’m nearly 20 and I live with my parents and three younger siblings. As well as my job, I’m at college studying to be a car mechanic. I needed more focus and I really wanted to get healthy, so I started the Thrive Challenge. 

I began with a Microstep: swapping one soda a day for water. 

It was hard at first because I never used to drink any water, but it got easier. I’m drinking a lot of water and I’m down to two sodas a day. My goal is to cut sodas out completely. 

My next step was educating myself about nutrition.

I learned that a lot of sugar and caffeine isn’t good for the body. I stopped eating ice cream,   cakes, and fast food. I did research on healthy food like protein and veggies, and I started expanding my palate and being less picky. I’m taking Microsteps like food prepping and I’m doing some cooking. I’ll find recipes on TikTok; last week I made cajun chicken pasta. I’ll make enough so I can take some to work the next day.

My parents support me in so many ways it’s hard to count them.

My mom helps me plan nutritious meals. She’s cooking healthier options for the whole family like grilled barbeque chicken with baked potatoes, green beans, and asparagus. She makes sure there are always apples and bananas in the house. I’ll have peanut butter and crackers or a handful of nuts for snacks, too. I’ve gained nine pounds in three months, and I’m getting stronger.

Checking into the app motivates me to move.

I’m lifting weights at the gym and gaining muscle. I look in the mirror and tell myself, “you’re doing amazing and you’re making great progress.” Every day I concentrate on a different part of the body; for example, Monday is legs and Tuesday I focus on chest and triceps. I work out with friends, which is great for accountability. Another benefit of working out: I’m sleeping better and I have more focus during the day.

I’ve learned from Thrive I can get a lot done by managing my time. 

I make time to exercise, eat, and get my homework done. I’ve always loved cars and I’m really enjoying being at college and learning about mechanics. My family and friends are always asking me about their cars when something’s wrong. I tell them I’m still training, but I’ll offer to help with simple things like changing oil or headlights.

My friends are my second family.

There are about ten of us, all guys; we hang out all the time when we’re not working. I’ve always been a people person, but now, when we’re out, I have more confidence. I don’t care as much about what others think about me. We’ll go bowling, play basketball, or go to the mall. If I’m feeling down about myself, I’ll talk to my friends. We’re there for each other. 

At work, I’m now more outgoing. 

I’ve become friends with Jacob, a co-worker. This is a dude I can call anytime. We’re both really big into heavy metal and we go to concerts together. Recently we went to see Ice Nine Kills.

I used to assume that I was the skinny guy who wasn’t attractive. 

If I talked to a girl I’d be stuttering and nervous. Now I’ll ask girls for their numbers — I’m not as frightened about possible rejection. I see one really sweet girl from high school at the gym. I start conversations with her and sometimes we work out together.   

My self-esteem has improved and I’m looking forward to my 20s.

I want to finish my associates degree and I know I have a good career ahead of me. My goals are to keep getting stronger and keep enjoying life. I’m becoming happy with who I am. 

— Ashton Collins, Distribution Center #6014; Clinton, SC; $5K Winner