Words: Kerry Justich
Jared Wells could never have imagined himself feeling at home in a gym, as he spent extended periods of time in a hospital bed.
The 22-year-old from New York, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant, nearly gave up on himself and allowed the lung disease to dictate his life. But he decided to pair up with a trainer and set goals to build his strength. Nearly eight months later, Wells competed in his first bodybuilding competition, where he placed in fourth.
Now, Wells and his trainer, Bob Donnelly, are reflecting on the young man’s fitness journey, which started back in March when a photo of Wells at 120 pounds and zero percent body fat went viral on Facebook.
“Jared’s workouts were slow at first. He would do his sets between coughs and often have to cut them short,” Donnelly tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The good part is that he took to it and showed up every day. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen bodybuilding change a lot of lives for the better.”
Wells had been cleared by doctors to work out less than one month prior to his start date in the gym.
But according to Wells, it took some time for him to realise that the gym was going to change him, let alone make him feel better. Especially because the time he spent there came at a cost.
“I would have to say the lows were losing most of my friends when I made a change to my lifestyle,” Wells shares. “Unfortunately what I wanted to do didn’t mix with their lifestyles. Another low was being sore all the time when I started needing to take more time to rest my body.”
The gains that Wells began to experience in his first few weeks of training at the Body Alive Fitness Centre in Utica, New York, were what ultimately motivated him to go beyond his initial goal of putting on some muscle to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Instead, he realised that he wanted to push the limits of what he thought was possible by submitting himself to compete in a bodybuilding competition.
The decision came one month into training and placed Wells on a transformative journey that would span the next eight weeks. He documented it all on his Instagram, and Donnelly posted updates on the gym’s Facebook page.
“Impossible is nothing” became the duo’s mantra to get through difficult workouts and diet changes. Soon enough, Wells tested that mantra as he hit the competition stage.
“Competition day was not what I expected. I was a little nervous but excited. All the competitors were extremely friendly and supportive of each other!” he explains. “I placed fourth in my novice class and fifth in my open.”
Still, it wasn’t placing that made the difficult journey worth it. Rather, it was the feeling that he had finally made something of himself and his body after seeing it deteriorate through cystic fibrosis for so many years.
“The highs were finally keeping a promise I made to my grandpa before he passed that I would start taking care of myself,” Wells says. “Another high was making my mum’s continuous effort to keep me alive worth it instead of throwing it away.”
With a renewed sense of confidence after the competition, Wells recently decided to leave his hometown for the first time in his life and embark on another ambitious journey: moving to Denver to start a new job. But he’s still committed to making time to train and compete.
“I plan on competing again!” he says. “I want to continue this journey and change lives! Maybe become a motivational speaker someday.”
As for Donnelly, who helped Wells break two of his personal records during their last few workouts together at Body Alive, the trainer couldn’t imagine a better path for the young athlete.
“God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers,” Donnelly says.
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