For a long time, I was in a habit of eating fast food all the time, and it caused me to have a problem with gastritis. On top of that, my wife is a nurse and my son had gone away to study at university in Chicago at Loyola, and we needed help with our finances. A transfer from another store, Damaris Santos, started working at our store, and she told me about the Thrive Challenge. I knew I needed to make a change to save money and change my diet, but at first I said to myself, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this.”

Four or five of us at our store committed to starting the Thrive Challenge.

I was nervous, since I started some of my habits when I was 12 years old and I’m now 41. I was thinking, “How am I going to stop doing these things?” But I told myself that I would give it a try. I needed to do it for my health and to help my son. Those are the most important things to me.

I started with my finances. 

My son has scholarships at school and he’s very smart, but compared to our local university, his school is very expensive. I originally told him to study closer to home in our small town, but he wanted to be at a big university. So I really need to be saving to help with his tuition. I started by moving some of our money into a separate account for savings. And every time I get paid, I add some more money into that account. That helped me get into a mindset of saving. I started saying to myself, “Put some money away, we don’t know when we’ll need it.”

Next, I knew I had to take steps to help my gastritis. 

At the time, I was drinking soda every day, and I finally said to myself, “This is the opportunity to put down the soda.” It wasn’t easy for me, because I had headaches from giving it up at the beginning, and I would even be in a bad mood because I was having withdrawals from it. But Damaris actually really helped encourage me to keep going. She said to me, “You have to stay consistent.” And over time, I saw that I was losing weight and my stomach issues were starting to go away. I felt better and it made a difference. 

My wife and I started making changes to our diets together. 

We’ve been preparing food together which has brought us even closer. I’ve stopped eating a lot of bread and I’ve started eating more fruits, vegetables, grilled chicken, and baked potatoes. I used to eat a huge sandwich for breakfast, and now we have oatmeal. We both feel better, and we’ve even started exercising together too. I wanted to start working out, and she started joining me. Now she’s just as motivated as me in the gym and I even told my son recently, “Manuel, take some time to exercise too,” because he spends all his time studying. 

Preparing our meals at home is helping us save. 

We’re not letting anything go to waste. We’re putting away money to help with my son’s tuition. That’s been the change I’m most proud of — helping my son with his studies. He puts a lot of pressure on himself and he is making a great sacrifice by leaving home and studying at Loyola. I want to be able to help him and send him money when he needs it.

Today, my gastritis has gone away and I’ve completely given up soda. 

That was my biggest vice and I never thought I could do that. Now, my wife and I have a morning routine, we drink our water, and I have so much more energy. I’m grateful for colleagues like Damaris who have encouraged me throughout the whole journey. She has kept telling me to remain positive and keep going. I feel so positive and ready for what’s next.

— Samuel Cruz Santiago, Walmart Supercenter #2302, Barceloneta, PR; $5K Winner