Coming out of a Taylorsville grocery store, I saw a man in a crisp white shirt, dress pants and helmet confidently ride up to the store on his bike. Too old to be a missionary, he was still an obviously experienced two-wheeled commuter.
As an advocate of bike transportation, I walked over to compliment the stranger. My jaw dropped in shock. The man was no stranger. He was Russ Wall, Taylorsville’s mayor, but almost unrecognizable. The formerly portly mayor with the unhealthy, no-sunlight hue to his skin was trim and tan.
Wall said his transformation began at the first of the year. At the time, he weighed 222 pounds, but looked heavier because he was carrying so much fat, which weighs less than muscle. He was taking sleeping pills and medicine for high blood pressure. He had sleep apnea, “partially because of my weight,” he says.
Five months later, Wall weighs 171 pounds. He went from size-38-waist jeans to size 32. He no longer has sleep apnea, no longer needs sleeping pills, no longer snores and is now the same weight and size he was when his now-adult children were young.
“Everyone keeps asking me what’s my secret, and I keep telling them it’s no secret,” Wall says. “It’s what experts have been telling us for years: diet and exercise.”
It’s easy for Wall to commute to work; he lives just two miles from City Hall. He keeps a jacket in his office and makes the commute wearing a dress shirt and tie. It takes him less than a minute to lock up his bike and walk inside, already dressed for city business. “During the warmer days, I’ll likely wear cooler clothing and freshen up in the police department downstairs, where they have a shower,” he says.
A note for those who must commute longer and sweatier distances, but have no shower access: Carry a spare shirt and a towel in a plastic bag. Stop in the restroom before going to your workspace. Dampen the towel with cold water and blot it all over your face and around your neck; doing so will cool you off quickly so you stop sweating. In a stall, take off your commuting shirt and press the towel to each armpit to remove sweat and stop more from coming, then put the damp towel in the plastic bag and change into your clean work shirt.
Mayor Wall’s amazing change didn’t come just from his brief weekday commute. He spends an additional hour a day on his bike, and instead of sitting around at home, he does an average of eight “miles” daily on a treadmill. But it’s not an obsession. If the weather is bad, he drives. If he’s feeling tired, he may skip the treadmill for a day.
Bike commuting may have sparked the change in Wall’s way of thinking about diet and exercise, but he didn’t ease off once his weight goals were met. “It’s not something you can do for 30 days and then you’re done; it’s a lifestyle change,” he says. “I haven’t given up a lot. I still have sweets when I want, but nothing’s free. I just have to spend a little more time on the treadmill [after having sweets].”
The 54-year-old, who has served seven years as mayor of the fast-growing city, says, “It’s a very stressful job, much more than I ever anticipated.” Exercise helps get rid of much of the stress, but there are additional benefits. Wall adds, “It’s unbelievable how much more energy I have. I recently hiked Tanner’s Slide in Little Cottonwood Canyon; I would have never been able to do that in my former life.”
Wall found that the hardest adjustment was getting accustomed to consistently moving his sedentary, overweight body. A body at rest wants to stay at rest. It takes serious commitment to change from couch potato to active.
The mayor’s most important advice for others struggling to make that change? “The days that you don’t feel like getting on the bike or treadmill, those are the days you have to force yourself. Your mind doesn’t want to do it, but if you start allowing yourself to say no, it’s easier to say no the next time.”