Every year, Thrive Challenge participants share their inspiring stories of resilience, perseverance, connection, and joy. Chris Armendariz is one of this year’s Thrive Challenge Grand Champs, and as his story shows, small changes can have a big impact on our lives — and the lives of others. Download the Thrive app to start your own Thrive Challenge. After 21 days of making better choices, share your story for a chance to win part of the $1 million prize pool!

It was scary to come out.

I knew I was gay when I was a teenager. That was hard in my family, where you were “supposed” to grow up, get married, and have children. Coming out to my parents was my biggest fear. I worried that I wouldn’t be accepted. But the total opposite happened. When I told my mom she said, “It doesn’t matter at all, I love you no matter what.” And it was the same with my dad. That was all I needed to know. My younger sister, Jessica, was also part of the LGBTQ community, and my parents completely accepted her too. 

As an adult, I’m happy with myself.

But it’s still not easy to find acceptance from everybody else. I wouldn’t feel comfortable holding Tim’s hand in public, even though we’re just two people in love, like any other couple. There’s still a lot of work to be done and my dream is that the day will come where everyone’s accepted for who they are.

Tim and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. 

And we’re so happy. Tim was married before we met and has three kids. We have eight grandchildren, and our family means everything to us. But we’ve both been through a lot of loss. I lost my mom in 2013 and my dad in 2016. It was a hard time, and we weren’t taking care of ourselves. My go-to drink was Coke. I even had it for breakfast. We’d both drink sodas all day long. Neither of us likes to cook, so driving home from work I’d pick up fast food, like Wendy’s or McDonald’s, or we’d order pizza. 

Then we had our wake up call. 

We were out hiking one day when Tim suddenly felt a pain in his chest. We were in the middle of nowhere, without any phone reception, and it was scary. The pain stopped — thank goodness — and we went home. A couple of days later we saw the doctor. It turned out that Tim had three blocked arteries and he had to have a triple bypass. On the day of his surgery, I was crying my eyes out thinking, Tim is going to get cut open — anything could happen, I could lose him. He recovered, but something so extreme coming out of nowhere made us realize life can change in a second. 

The big motivation to change is our family.

Tim’s 62, I’m 49, and we want to be here for each other, and for our kids and grandkids. There are graduations and weddings to look forward to. I was heavyset and weighed 222 pounds. Diabetes runs in my family — my grandma and my mom were diabetic — and I knew I had to make a change before I ended up in the hospital myself. So I downloaded the Thrive app.

My first Microstep was drinking water first thing in the morning.

I cut out soda and we started eating at home. Tim does most of the cooking because he’s retired. He’ll make simple meals like quesadillas or tacos with ground lean beef. Or we’ll just buy grilled chicken and pop it in the microwave. I bring in food to work, like a turkey sandwich with avocado. For a snack, I’ll have a banana. Oh my gosh, I used to eat four donuts a day! Tim and I like to go to the farmer’s market; we’ll buy fruit like tangerines and apples.

Moving gives me energy.

I started walking more at work and soon I was up to 10 thousand steps a day. Now my daily goal is 20 thousand steps, which I normally hit. I go to the gym and work out on the elliptical and do weights. To get me going, I’ll listen to Bjork or Latin music like Celia Cruz. 

I’ve lost 30 pounds and I feel like a new person. 

I actually laughed looking at myself in the mirror the other day. I was like, Is this what abs are supposed to look like? Because I think I’m getting them!

We’re saving for adventures. 

Tim and I love to travel and we decided to save for our big bucket list trips. We started putting 20 dollar bills into a piggy bank (it’s actually a white ceramic heart that belonged to my mom). We stopped eating at restaurants, which saved a lot. If friends ask us to join them for dinner and drinks now, we’re like, “Not this week, maybe another time.” And we just don’t need new clothes, so we don’t go to the mall. We opened a joint travel savings account, and it adds up to about five thousand dollars a year — enough for a big vacation. 

We plan one adventure a year.

After Tim’s surgery, we went to Scotland and took a wonderful Clans and Castles tour. It felt like a dream for me because we didn’t have much growing up in Odessa, Texas. I didn’t know anybody who traveled anywhere. We’ve been to Mexico, and we’ve just got back from the Philippines, which was incredible. Every time we go on a trip we put a picture up on a wall in our spare bedroom. We have a collage now and soon we’re going to need a bigger wall!

I couldn’t believe it when I won the Thrive Challenge in 2019.

When my manager called me to tell me I’d won, we were in Scotland. It was a complete shock and I felt such a sense of accomplishment. I said to Tim, “All the changes we’ve made allowed us to be here.” The $5000 prize went straight toward our next vacation in Iceland. That was amazing. I remember we were on a boat looking out at the glaciers, and I just started crying — the landscapes were so beautiful. 

I’m always trying something new.

We went snorkeling in the Philippines. And recently, a co-worker — Taylor, who goes indoor rock climbing — invited me along. I thought, “I feel good, I can do this.” So I tried it. It’s challenging doing what they call “top roping,” where you climb the high wall attached to a harness. Taylor was holding the rope below and I knew it was safe, but I was halfway up and my legs started shaking. I was thinking: “Please don’t let me fall!” Afterwards, though, I felt accomplished and exhilarated.

I love Walmart. 

I’ve been with Walmart for 31 years. It was my first job, and it’s a great place to work because there’s room for opportunity and growth no matter what you want to do. I have a voice, and if I have an idea to improve something, I know I can share it. 

I’ve always been encouraged to be who I am.

Walmart has been very supportive. Here in Fresno, I used to be involved with the Rainbow Pride Parade. And in 2015, I helped to get Walmart involved as a sponsor. I took it upon myself to reach out to anybody with a title or senior position who could help me achieve my goal. It was a lot of work, but it meant a lot to me. It was groundbreaking for us. Managers, and associates, parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters all showed up to the parade to support us. I got to hear wonderful stories. There are so many LGBTQ associates and we want everyone to know they can come to work as their true, authentic selves. 

I’m inspiring my coworkers. 

They’ll say, “How can you afford to go on all these trips?” And I’ll say, “It’s called the Thrive Challenge! This is what we do to save money.” Or they’ll say, “What are you doing to lose weight?” I’ll say, “Find out, join me at the gym.” I work side by side with a guy called Harrison who’d never been to the gym, and now he’s working out with me and has lost a lot of weight. We hold each other accountable. One of us will say, “We’re going to the gym now, you’re not backing out!” 

I’m committed to this journey.

Last year was hard for both me and Tim. Tim lost his mom to Alzheimer’s. And I lost my sister, Jessica. She committed suicide — and this is only the second time I’ve said those words. I haven’t accepted it. I feel like I can just call her and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” And Thrive helps me stay strong. 

I’m taking even better care of myself. 

I’m hitting the gym harder. And I’m watching a lot of Thrive nature Resets. I’ve made my own, too. What better Resets could there be than videos of our travels, like the waterfalls in Iceland or jumping into the cenotes (natural water pools) in Mexico? Reliving it all makes me smile and clears my mind. 

Our grandkids are helping me heal.

I get teary-eyed just watching them grow up. Coila is 10 and plays the piano; Lily, who’s 11, loves to bake, and she’s an artist; and Annora is on a flag team — they all keep us busy. Now, I have more energy for them. Just this past Saturday we had a basketball game for William, Lily’s twin, a baseball game for 15-year-old Noah, and a birthday party for Caleb, who turned five. We also took Annora, who’s 13, to Barnes & Noble to buy books, because she loves to read.

Anytime they need us, the kids know they can call us.

Tim is Grampy and I’m Papa Chris. Trinity, who’s 19, and Ariel, who’s 17, called because they needed wrist corsages for their winter formal — and they know I do flowers. (I’ve done them for all our family weddings.) I said yes of course. I used baby roses for the corsages, and the girls were so happy. Ariel comes over here to do her laundry. She likes to put messages on our kitchen whiteboard. This is the last one she wrote: “I hope you are living your best lives. Love you so, so, so much, Ariel.”

We’re connecting and growing.

Tim and I talk about our losses together and reflect — we talk about memories. And we spend time together doing things we enjoy, like gardening. Flowers make me happy, and really, anything you put in the ground grows well here in California. Right now we have lots of color in our backyard: pink and red snapdragons, pansies, red and white roses, and succulents. I do the planting and design, Tim does the watering and the weeding. 

We go outside to escape and meditate.

Sometimes we can be out there for hours and not say a word to each other. We have a water fountain, and statues of angels, ladybugs, and fairies. There’s a hidden frog here and there. I tell friends who are visiting, you never know what you might find in our backyard. Sometimes, I sit down on our bench, look up at the sky and think about my mom and how I used to walk her around the garden and show her everything I’d planted. And I think about my sister and my dad. 

I’m healing from grief and I’ve become my best self.

Jessica is my inspiration. I want to remember her for who she was, and her smile, and her laughter. I don’t ever want to be in a place where suicide is even a thought. And I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. Nothing is worth stressing about — there is always someone to talk to and turn to. And at Walmart we can always get support with our Resources for Living.

The Thrive Challenge has changed my life.

I’m grateful and I’m happy to be alive. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the changes I’ve made. My confidence has improved dramatically. I believe in myself and I know I’ll be here for our family. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Tim and to our travels together. Next year is my 50th, and we’re thinking of going to Belize or Costa Rica. This is my journey, my story continues — here’s to my next adventure. 

Chris Armendariz, Walmart Supercenter #5337, Clovis, CA

Every year, the Thrive Challenge awards inspiring individuals with cash prizes from a pool of $1 million. Join the Thrive Challenge here and submit your story for a chance to win.