Ashburton father's journey from 220kg to personal trainer

Dean Rattray once weighed 220kg. Today he's a personal trainer.
Erin Tasker/Fairfax NZ

Dean Rattray once weighed 220kg. Today he's a personal trainer.

The reality of weighing 220kg isn't pretty. For Ashburton's Dean Rattray it meant falling asleep mid-conversation, or while sitting at a red light, and struggling with everyday tasks like going to the toilet or putting socks on.

But today, that's all a distant memory. He's 95kg and a personal trainer who takes spin classes thanks to an expensive gastric sleeve operation and a lot of hard work.

Had he not bitten the bullet and made the move when he did, he'd hate to think where he'd be today. At 42 and 220kg his health was surprisingly good, but he knew it was only a matter of time before that changed.

On the left is Dean Rattray in early 2013 and on the right in 2014, 16 months after his surgery.

On the left is Dean Rattray in early 2013 and on the right in 2014, 16 months after his surgery.

"I had a friend say to me that they knew of someone who had had the rubber band surgery and I sort of thought, yeah, I probably need to do something, and I knew my kids were worried about me. So I took the bull by the horns," Rattray said.

"The reality of it was I couldn't do things with my kids, or my grandkids, I was missing out on doing things with them that I like to do like fishing and hunting, it just got too hard.

"And a major factor was that I was at the stage of almost losing my job because I was suffering from sleep apnoea. I would be sitting down talking to someone and I would just fall asleep, and my wife hated driving with me because I would fall asleep at a red light."

Dean Rattray once weighed 220kg. Today he's a personal trainer.
Erin Tasker/Fairfax NZ

Dean Rattray once weighed 220kg. Today he's a personal trainer.

Sleep tests showed that Rattray was stopping breathing 133 times per hour during the night.

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In hindsight, Rattray said he knew deep down how big he was, but he just didn't always see it.

"I think the attitude was this is who I am, if you don't like it, leave me alone."

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But he knew. If he got an invitation to a party, he'd have to think ahead to whether there would be any chairs there without arms, so he could fit in them.

Simple, everyday tasks like going to the toilet, having a shower or putting socks on were a mammoth effort.

"I speak about it quite freely, because it's real. It doesn't sound very nice, a person of 42 years old struggling to go to the toilet, and that's not something I'm proud of, but that's the reality of it."

For Dean, fighting his way to healthy meant forking out $26,000 for a gastric sleeve operation, but he's glad he did, and glad he had to pay for it, because it meant he was motivated to see it through, and keep going.

"The last three years have been life-changing. Hey, I'm still here, because I probably would have been dead otherwise."

He cycles, runs, goes to the gym, and is able to enjoy hunting and fishing with his kids and grandkids again. He freely admits, he's got a bit of a fitness obsession now, something he'd never have imagined five years ago.


He started an over-eaters group in Ashburton, and for that, taught himself how to take a spin class. He loved it, so took it a step further and began studying towards becoming a personal trainer through correspondence, and when the EA Networks Centre opened last year Rattray was on the books as a spin instructor.

It has been a long, hard road, and one he knows he couldn't have gone down without help. His wife Karin has been his rock, his family and friends have supported him 100 per cent, as have the staff at the EA Networks Centre gym and his employers Ryal Bush Transport.

Three-and-a-half years on from the surgery, he's still getting used to his new body. It's still strange buying clothes in a medium or a large, instead of a 5XL.

"People would say I was looking good, but I didn't see it for a long time. The mental side of it is tough, but it's about striving for progress, and not perfection."

He still enjoys a beer, eats fish and chips, and takes part in pie-day Friday at work. It was all about moderation and knowing what you were eating, Rattray said. If you have a pie one day, just don't have one the next day.

The gastric sleeve operation took 2-3 litres of his stomach's capacity away. Immediately after the operation his capacity was down to just 5ml, but it could expand again.

"The surgery is just part of a recipe, and without the whole recipe you won't get the whole benefit from it. That recipe is the surgery, diet, exercise, being happy and living a real life," he said.

Rattray knows all too well, the hardest part of making a change can be making yourself walk out the door.

"I don't know what I hoped to get from it all, life I guess. But it's definitely exceeded that, to the stage that I'm working in a gym, becoming a qualified personal trainer – something I never thought I would do – doing multisport and duathlons and running to the extreme that I do.

"Running for fun … running was always a thing you did because you had to do to get fit for footy before.

"It's a bit of a drug almost, where you can go a day without doing anything and not feel too bad, but if you go two days without doing anything constructive fitness-wise you start to get a bit agitated because you haven't pushed yourself and made an excuse to do something."

He doesn't know what the future holds, but he's just happy he's got a future.

"It's been epic, and the story hasn't finished yet."

 - Stuff


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