Thrive Challenge Grand Champ Kevin Lowe shares his inspiring journey. 

My Dad was never around

I have 14 siblings, including my half brothers and sisters. My dad had three of us with my mom — me and my sisters, Amanda and Jeana — but he left the family when I was eight. Dad was never around. I saw the sorrow on my sisters’ faces and I tried hard to be there for them. My mom ended up raising nine of us, and she worked hard. When she was home, she was always tired. I remember being upset when she couldn’t come to parent-teacher conferences or take us to the park. I know my mom was doing her best, but when I was young it seemed like all the other kids had happy families, and we were missing out. Even when I was young, my dream was to have the family I never had and be a great dad.

Miscarriages and heartbreak

When Jolene and I fell in love, we both wanted a family. We tried for five years but there was complication after complication. Jolene had two miscarriages and each time we were heartbroken. I had to hold it together because I needed to be a rock for Jolene. We had a farewell service for each of them with a balloon send-off in Kanakadea Park, overlooking the water, and they’ll always be in our thoughts. But we were crushed. I thought there must be something wrong with me and Jolene thought there was something wrong with her, but the doctors told us it was just difficult for Jolene to carry a baby to term, because there was a lot of strain on her body. 

I was stressed during COVID

While we were dealing with the miscarriages, I was exhausted and stressed. At work, we were short-staffed. I felt like I had to try to come up with solutions and be there for our associates. I was almost never home. And when I was home, Jolene and I hardly spent any time together. She’s a teacher, and by the time I woke up in the morning, she’d left for work. I got into bad habits like downing energy drinks, and I was eating too much. I’d have fried chicken and potato wedges drenched in hot sauce, and mac and cheese was my go-to. I’d heat up two boxes and eat them both. It took me back to my childhood, when mac and cheese was a reward meal. I weighed 306 pounds, my knees hurt, and I felt terrible.

I wanted to be a great dad

We found out Jolene was pregnant again and when we realized our son really was on the way, I decided to change my life. I wanted to be the dad I never had, who would pick you up when you fell, and wipe the dirt off you, and who would always be there for you. Nivek was born a year ago and he’s our miracle baby. “Nivek” is Kevin spelled backwards, which people used to call me. 

I started the Thrive Challenge

Sherin Thomas, a 2021 Thrive Challenge Grand Champ, and Kirsten Ohara, a Thrive Challenge winner, encouraged me to give it a try. I started by cutting out energy drinks and drinking water instead. I do most of the cooking and I really enjoy it. I like to slice steak, slow-cook it until it’s tender, and sear it. We’ll have it with mushrooms or broccoli and purple potatoes from our garden. Or I’ll make zucchini noodles instead of pasta, with home-made Alfredo sauce.

Gardening became a passion

When food is fresh and you’ve grown it yourself, it tastes so much better. I share a garden with my 80-year-old neighbor, Dan, and we’re growing tomatoes, potatoes and broccoli. We also have strawberries and grapes. We have so much fun. Gardening gets me outside and moving. And I’m learning how to be self-sufficient from local farmers whose families have been doing this for generations. They’re teaching me the tricks of the trade, like how to start your own compost bin with leftovers — egg shells do wonders for the soil, adding nutrients.

I’m inspiring the next generation

A group of us started a community garden. Everyone in the area can take whatever they want. I love seeing kids’ happy faces when they pick veggies for lunch, knowing they’re going to eat food that tastes great and that I helped to grow. I feel like I’m a valued part of our community.

We’re moving as a family

My alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning; we’ll go for a walk to the park and watch the ducks. Breathing in the fresh air makes me feel completely recharged. Jolene and I got a gym membership at the Y.M.C.A. and we take Nivek with us. While I’m working out, Mommy is doing laps and the little guy is with her, constantly trying to flirt with everyone. Jolene and I take Little Man for hikes to Letchworth State Park. No matter if we’ve done the same trail 50,000 times, every single time he sees a leaf fall, he’ll giggle. And now that he’s running, he’ll hold our hands, and go down the trail as fast as he can until he trips over a little stick. 

We’re always looking for adventures 

Jolene and I did a 5K mud run. We had to crawl through the mud and climb over obstacles. It was a blast. And we just did a 5K run to raise money for people with autism. Little Man was in my arms and he thought it was so funny, bouncing up and down, as I was trying to keep a steady pace. We crossed the finish line together and that right there was a new level of euphoria for me.

I never ever expected to be a winner 

When I got the call telling me I had won the Thrive Challenge, I was dumbfounded and actually a little embarrassed. I like helping people and recognizing others  — I’m not so good at recognizing myself. But once I saw how much my story inspired others to get started on their Thrive Challenges, that’s when it sunk in that I was doing something good.  

Jolene and I are connecting 

We’re doing the Challenge together, and making time for each other. Jolene was a winner too, which was a huge surprise. We both have more energy and we’re loving being parents. We’re not married, but I’ve planned a big surprise for her, a special commitment ceremony in my buddy’s backyard. I bought her a sapphire promise ring and I’m so excited to give it to her. I love Jolene to the moon and back. I love her more than I can put into words. 

Being a dad is awesome

Nivek’s our one and only child and being a dad is everything I’d imagined. The best times are when I’m out in nature with Little Man, seeing the look on his face, the awe and wonder, when he sees a butterfly or a flower, or bumble bees taking nectar from sunflowers. Getting to be together with my wife and son, surrounded by nature, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.

We love the Thrive Challenge at our store

Our entire store has really blown up with Thrive. There are about 70 associates now taking the Thrive Challenge, and everyone’s got buddies to motivate them. We’re all getting outside and we’re much more active. Coach Kirsten encourages us to move during our lunch breaks and we challenge each other to take more steps. But none of us can keep up with Kirsten! We also have group hikes outside of work. I take great pride in the fact that I’ll often have associates come up to me and show me a screenshot of how many steps they’ve done. They’re like, “Come on, I want to see if I beat you!” 

I’m a good leader

I’m much less stressed. When an associate comes to me venting about a difficult situation, I just say, “first, let’s take a deep breath.” I’m really listening to everyone. They know I’m here if they need to vent. I tell them, even if I might not be able to tell you what you want to hear, I’ll always be straight with you. 

I love making people laugh

Our store is always doing fundraisers, and I go all out for kids’ charities. We had a water bucket challenge for The Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit that raises funds for children’s hospitals. I came in first place, and I raised more money than anyone else so I got drenched three times. Who doesn’t want to dunk their boss? I want to show everyone that we’re all in it together, so we might as well have fun. Every single holiday l doll up my beard to entertain associates. I dyed it red white and blue on the Fourth of July and put lights on it for Christmas. I actually dressed up as a Christmas tree last year. My poor better half knows that every time there’s a holiday coming up, there’ll be glitter all over the place. But it’s worth it to see everyone break out laughing in a meeting because they just can’t control themselves.

Why I love Walmart

I started working at Walmart when I was 17 and I’ve been there going on 13 years. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s so much more than retail, and brick and mortar stores. There are great opportunities and I’m learning new things all the time. Walmart has given me the chance to go back to school; I’m studying for a degree in electrical engineering, and they’re completely covering my expenses. This has given me a second chance to find a new passion and I’ll be able to use my new skills in my career. My other favorite benefit is Walmart+. We get discounts on gas and free shipping on any online orders. And we get Paramount +, which we love, because we’ve been introduced to great kids’ shows, like Rugrats. Getting all these benefits  makes you feel appreciated. 

We’re saving for a house

We have a calendar that shows all our bills for the month so we can see what we have to save for. I generally stick to the rule that if it’s not essential, it doesn’t need to be bought. And we’re building our credit. Our dream is to buy a house with a backyard, and the Thrive Challenge is helping us move toward that dream. I want all those classic dad things, to have my own grill and my own garden. And I want a playground for Nivek with monkey bars.   

My life has changed

I’ve lost a lot of weight, and I feel like a different person.

But the Thrive Challenge is much more than the weight loss for me. It’s about the way I feel — how I’ve become a great dad and have encouraged everyone around me. I’m still shy when it comes to recognizing my own achievements, but I take great pride in everything that I’ve been able to do. And I can actually say I like myself now.

I follow my grandfather’s philosophy on life

He’s 97 and he’s still a great role model. When I started out on my Thrive Challenge, I remembered that he always used to tell me: “Every day is what we make of it and if you always say it’s a beautiful day, you’ll convince yourself that it is beautiful and it will be.” Now, I start every single day telling Little Man, “it’s a beautiful day,” knowing that it really is going to be a beautiful day.

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.