I’d wake up in the morning and everything hurt. I was eating fast food every day and I had no portion control. I weighed 280 pounds and I didn’t feel good. I didn’t have any energy for my wife, Stephanie, and our three kids, Braedon, who’s 16, 13-year-old Kylie, and six-year-old Tristan, who has autism. I’m 34 and thought, I’m too young to be sore. It was time for a change. I wanted to set a good example for my kids and be more active with them. I also wanted to go to college, improve my mind, and progress in my career. 

I downloaded the Thrive app and I started cooking. 

I eat what I enjoy — I don’t like fad diets. That way I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself. I use fresh ingredients and control my portions. For lunch, I might have a chicken breast sandwich. For dinner, I make soup with Italian sausage and kale. I also make fettuccine Alfredo with chicken. Everyone loves my chicken enchiladas. And I’m eating lots of veggies — I really like asparagus. 

Weekdays are hectic, but we have dinner together on the weekend. 

We talk about what the kids are doing at school. Kylie’s in the choir and drama club, and Braedon talks about basketball and gaming with his friends. 

I’ve lost a lot of weight and I have more energy.

I’m riding my bike and I go to the gym three times a week; I’m 100 percent committed. Now my goal is to do a pull-up! I haven’t been able to do one yet! We go on family hikes — we really like Mounds State Park which has ceremonial mounds built by Native Americans. I enjoy being out in nature in the woods. I got a bike trailer for my bicycle and I take Tristan for rides, which he loves. And I take my kids out on my motorcycle, which is fun! It feels so great to be active and doing the things a father should be doing. 

In the morning, I take Tristan to school.

He’s getting applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and learning life skills so he can be integrated and go to regular school. We have parent training and I love helping him progress. I really enjoy reading to him. Tristan is non-verbal so I’m learning sign language and we’re communicating better. 

Every day I log into the Thrive app.

It only takes a minute to pop in and grow my plant. I like the breathing Resets with calming nature videos. I struggle with anxiety so if I have a deadline coming up at work, or I’m a few minutes late for something, taking a few deep breaths helps me relax and realize we’ll get everything done. 

Stephanie and I have busy schedules, but we spend time together every Saturday night.

We’ll sit on the couch and watch a T.V. show like “Shameless.” Stephanie is into ’80s horror movies, like The Evil Dead which make us laugh! 

Giving back makes me feel good.

I am a ham radio operator and I volunteer with the county EMS. I’m also involved in community events like 5K runs that need radio communication.

I’m studying for a bachelor’s degree in programming and software development.

It’s amazing to be able to go to college for free through Walmart because I never went when I was younger, so I’m very grateful. I have a 4.0 GPA and my advisor is really impressed. I feel like I’m working toward something positive and I’m proud of myself. I’d love to have a career in software development — improving communications in Walmart. I think I’m able to do everything because I’m managing my time effectively. 

I’m a lot happier and a lot less stressed. 

Before starting the Thrive Challenge, I didn’t have any direction — I was working for a paycheck. Now I have goals. I’m a better father and provider for the family. 

Last weekend we had a family reunion.

I pulled Tristan to the park in his wagon, instead of driving, something I wouldn’t have been able to do before. Tristan was playing with all the other kids and adjusting so well. We were eating great food — my uncle’s delicious smoked brisket. We were all hanging out and running around, and life felt good. I realized I’ve come a long way. 

— Jerald Buckles, Distribution Center #7055, Gas City, IN; $5K Winner