That's what he said.
Everyone loves a motivational story. We are all inspired by true accounts of an underdog who goes against all odds to reach redemption against anyone who doubted them. The story told about Peter Ajello in “Mind Over Body” is nothing short of an amazing experience. This is a man who weighed almost 450 lbs, suffered from diabetes and gout due to his enormous size, and was overwhelmed by an addiction to gambling, junk food, and enough drugs to sedate a small country. Now I’ve been inspired by books of addicts defeating their roaring drug habits and morbidly obese men/women who saved their own life by shedding hundreds of pounds. But here is a one of a kind story of a man who had a near death experience, stood up to his deadly vices, detoxed from poisons that were in his body for decades, and eventually lost over 200 lbs in a remarkable 18 months. He reversed his diabetes, sobered up, and restored his life completely. And it all started with a $17,000 bet that took place in a Boca Raton sales office that we worked in together.
The book begins by outlining Pete’s upbringing in Saddle River, New Jersey. I worked with a lot of guys from Northeast areas like New York, Boston, and most of the New England area. I was always fascinated with tales of their Irish/Italian families, Catholic traditions, and strong work ethics. Pete’s family was no different and his childhood seemed pretty normal. He played football in high school but when his parents started to fight and take a turn for divorce, Pete decided he needed additional alternatives for his stress and anxiety. First he started devouring the pasta and lasagna dishes that every Italian mother stores in the fridge as leftovers late at night. Then he started smoking pot and drinking beers with friends just to avoid coming home to a warzone. And by the time Pete left for college, his father and mother split to opposite sides of the country and he went into full fledged panic mode, going to the extremes of a frat boy lifestyle to escape the guilt he felt for his parent’s break up. In college in Boston, MA, Pete met many of his friends that he still hangs with today. One of which was Gregg Lazarus, a short, super-muscular, close friend and mentor of mine who would later run a mortgage company that employed me when I was 18. They all ran a small college bar together but while the others were focused on business, Pete was known as the community clown and jester of the group. They constantly egged him on to consume more alcohol than what was logically possible and urged him to break new records on how many spicy wings he could fit into his exploding stomach. As Pete’s health spiralled out of control and the pounds piled on, his tolerance for heavier drugs like cocaine began to grab hold. Eventually, to keep up with his addiction he started selling drugs for profit to maintain his insane lifestyle.
Over a decade later, many of his friends got married, had kids, started businesses, and moved on with their lives. Gregg came to Florida and started a small mortgage company of 5 brokers in Boca Raton, which would eventually grow into a massive office in Deerfield Beach employing over 130 loan officers and telemarketers. When I was hired, I met Pete as a grotesque 450 lb, heavy breathing, whale of a man that I actually found interesting, entertaining, and jolly. I noticed instantly that everyone poked fun at his expense in the most obnoxious and venomous ways possible. Constantly referring to him as a fat slob and laughing at stories of his disgusting eating habits as well as viscously joking that his drug habit was going to kill him any day now. And it was no joke! He would sneak to his car in the parking lot and sniff enough cocaine throughout the day to fuel a Mexican army. By time he left the office he would be so wired that he would have to sedate himself with more oxy-codone than it would take to put an elephant to sleep. I couldn’t believe that he managed to live this long with that kind of lifestyle. But one night, that all came into reality for Peter. He was driving home from an office party and the deadly mix of uppers and downers caused him to have a stroke at age 35. He nearly crashed his car as his face melted off from the numbness. It took the emergency room and a brief stint in county jail for him to realize that he didn’t have much time to make a change.
A few weeks after the chaos had erupted, it was July 2008 and Pete told Gregg and another owner Jason that he was going to lose 100 lbs by the end of theyear. The two owners literally fell from their chairs laughing uncontrollably. For even if Peter WANTED to lose weight, the assumption was that he would never get past a drug addiction so crippling that Steven Tyler would probably flinch at it. Gregg and Jason were so convinced that this feat would be impossible that they bet $17,000 collaboratively that it would never happen. And so Peter’s journey began. First the detoxing and with drawls came. This included all the vomit, diarrhea, insomnia, and pain that comes with separating your body from a chemical addiction it has become used to. In over a month of mental depression and suicidal thoughts, Pete still managed to watch his diet and run a few miles 3 times a day. By the time Fall came, Pete was in full routine with a membership at the local gym. A trainer even took him on for free, inspired by the work he was putting in. Watching the pounds drop from all of his water weight and fat lost every week, the ones who bet against Peter became concerned. Guys at the office would constantly order piping hot pizzas and have them delivered to his door at night. They would leave boxes of hot wings in his gym bag every day. But all of this only motivated Pete more.
I remember being in the office two days before New Years Eve and talking with Pete. He was upset because he was still 7 lbs over the mark and thought it would be impossible to lose it in 48 hours. After a long conversation, we came to the conclusion that at this point the money was irrelevant. Peter had done something that was considered impossible for decades. He was going into a New Year in the best shape of he had ever been in and was clean/sober for the first time in his adult life. Pete went into an extreme fast and piled on cardio workouts wearing garbage bags for the next two days. To be honest, I don’t think what he did was healthy but by New Years morning, Pete stepped on a scale at Level 5 Fitness in front of a crowd of people and cameras. Everyone had erupted in cheers as Pete’s weight calculated 2 lbs underneath his scheduled target. Since that life-changing milestone, Pete has gone on to take his fitness to unbelievable levels. He was invited onto talk shows like Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, and Biggest Loser. He wrote this book as a memoir of his feat and continues to be a motivation for many. As he continued to drop weight, many health food companies like Tru Chocolate sponsored him and even paid for a surgery to remove all of the extra skin left over from his weight loss. Today, you can find Peter Ajello on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook continuing to share his experiences that serve as a reminder to all of us that anything is possible and it’s never too late to make the necessary changes to live a positive life.