Velez, an English-as-a-second-language teacher from Albertville, Alabama, really wanted to make a change.
He attributes his weight struggles to eating habits he learned as a child. He grew up in a Latin family, with a diet consisting of rice, beans and plenty of fried food. His family moved from Puerto Rico to Florida when he was 4.
When he was younger, Velez loved playing baseball, but after his sophomore year of high school he weighed 250 pounds and had to give up the sport because it exhausted him.
In college, his eating habits worsened. Like many students, he ate whatever was readily available and cheap, such as cafeteria hamburgers, French fries and chicken fingers.
By the time Velez reached adulthood, he weighed 310 pounds.
It was not until he was reminiscing over photos from one spring trip to the Bahamas with friends that he realized he was significantly overweight.
Velez set a goal to drop 100 pounds in a year’s time before his next trip. He changed his diet, exercise routine and most importantly, his attitude.
He began walking 45 minutes every morning and soon after was able to jog.
“It was only after I lost 30 to 40 pounds from jogging that I joined a gym,” says Velez. “It’s intimidating.”
Once there, he began lifting weights and building muscle to sculpt his ideal body. But “it doesn’t just happen at the gym, it happens after (the gym), too,” Velez says.
He cut out soda, sweets and carbohydrates while focusing on high-protein foods such as fish and chicken, pairing them with fruits and vegetables.
Since Velez had never been a gym-goer or calorie counter, many people who knew him discouraged him from starting his weight loss journey. They told him he was working toward an unrealistic goal because of his past habits.
Velez says that he’s competitive and that their words fired his desire to prove everyone around him wrong.
“You really have to want it bad enough,” says Velez. “Once you get the mental part right, you can’t let the negative Nancys get you down.”
After a year and two months — and 155 pounds lost — he decided to reward himself with skin removal surgery. He now has plans to tone and sculpt his body to compete in men’s physique competitions for the 2014 season.
Velez says he has no problem maintaining his diet and exercise plan and that the temptation to eat unhealthy food is no longer present. He takes his own meals to work to ensure he sticks to his routine and sacrifices the candy he once had a sweet tooth for.
After seeing Velez transform into a more confident and fit individual, his sister, Zorry Padilla, began her own healthy journey to shed the weight she gained after the birth of her children.
“I always had an excuse,” says Padilla.
Velez helped his sister lose 40 pounds in nine months by following the same meal plans he does. Padilla plans to run the next 5K in their area with her brother.
“Though I’m not a personal trainer, I know what it takes, and I want to help others as much as I can,” Velez says.
Long-time friend Angel Ramirez says he is amazed at Velez’s life changes.
“On Facebook he has so many followers that are trying to do the same thing he did,” says Ramirez. “Every time he posts something, he’s got instant feedback.”
Velez says his outlook on life has been altered for the better; he now creates goals and sticks to them.
He finds he is more confident in his own skin and his day-to-day decisions, unlike before when he would frequently change his mind and had low self-confidence.
Velez says he was once known as “the big goofy guy.” However, now, both Padilla and Ramirez say his jokes come in moderation because he doesn’t need to hide behind his weight anymore.
“Drive, determination, discipline and dedication are the four D’s to my success,” Velez says.