Local man’s determination transforms his health
By CATHY DYSON
Sometimes, John Langin works out in a baggy old baseball shirt that means a lot to him.
Not because the name on the front is the “Braves,” though it suits Langin. He was born with cerebral palsy and fought to do the same things other kids did—then had to listen to them make fun of his disability.
The shirt reminds Langin how far he’s come.
He was 11 when he got it. He was so overweight, he needed an extra-extra-large adult size. Langin kept adding on the pounds until after high school, when he was inspired by a contestant on the TV show, “The Biggest Loser.”
He cut out snacks and ate more home-cooked meals, then sought a personal trainer to get in shape.
As a result, the 20-year-old lost 120 pounds in a year and gained the self-esteem he lacked as a youth. He’s able to do bench presses and squats, jog up stairs and jump from the floor to a box several inches off the ground.
“Hey, not bad for somebody who was not supposed to walk,” said Shane Miller, his personal trainer at American Family Fitness near Massaponax.
A GRIM DIAGNOSIS
Langin lives in Spotsylvania County with his mother, Carol. His father, John, died in 2010.
At 2, his parents were told he had been born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that can affect movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking.
Problems often are caused by an abnormality in the brain and develop in the womb. They also can happen any time during a baby’s first two years.
Langin had had a rare infection when he was 2 months old, and doctors weren’t sure if his problems were from the infection, cerebral palsy or both.
“At 5, they told me he would probably never walk or run or do more than be able to write his name,” his mother said. “They said I’d be lucky if he graduated from high school.”
His mother considered him lucky because he was more mobile than most cerebral palsy patients, though his gait was noticeably different.
Classmates were more than happy to point out the crooked way Langin walked and how he almost hopped when he tried to run. Kids made fun of how he wrote, too, and Langin said his big block lettering still looks like a third-grader’s.
Langin turned to food to try to make himself feel better after a long day of cruel comments.
“The bigger I got, the more depressed I got so the more I ate,” Langin said in a video he did with Miller about his transformation. “I would eat mozzarella sticks, snack cakes—you name it, I ate it.”
His mother knew how much he was suffering at school and let him raid the cupboards.
“I would do anything to make him happy, to make him feel loved, and food was great for that,” she said.
She later realized she was compounding the problem.
“His size is just as much my fault as anybody’s,” Carol Langin said. “I hope he learns from my mistakes You can’t find joy with food.”
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Langin weighed 320 pounds when he decided to lose weight. He dropped about 60 pounds on his own before heading to American Family Fitness in April of this year.
The membership director paired Langin and Miller—though Miller and Carol Langin believe God had a hand in bringing them together.
The two began with exercises that increased his range of motion, just as Miller would do with anyone who’s out of shape.
The trainer knew Langin had had numerous operations to correct issues related to his cerebral palsy. He wasn’t sure how much Langin could do—or if he could do certain movements at all.
Once he realized he could get all Langin’s muscles firing and joints working without hurting him, he turned on the heat.
The two have run sprints and climbed hills, rolled tractor-size tires in the parking lot and built up the strength in Langin’s legs, his weakest body part.
Miller has been amazed by how Langin’s body has responded. The young man who started workouts six months ago—on his butt, without bearing any weight or testing his core strength—regularly breaks his own records on rowing machines and with bench presses.
“How awesome is that?” Miller said. “Every day we work together, he is blowing my mind about what he is capable of doing.”
Langin routinely gets to the gym 30 minutes ahead of his session with Miller so he’s warmed up and ready. He regularly stays after and comes in at least once a day on his own.
His mother says he has the highest tolerance for pain of anyone she knows. Miller regularly asks Langin if he’s hurting, especially after he did 60 “junkyard dog pushups” when he had 30 pounds of chains hanging from his neck. Langin repeatedly swore that he wasn’t sore.
Miller has to insist that Langin take a day of rest to allow his body to heal.
“I think he’s the only client I’ve ever told not to come to the gym,” Miller said.
‘A LIGHT BULB WENT OFF’
Miller cited several examples of Langin’s willingness to change any aspect of his diet or workout routine.
Miller suggested eating more vegetables—beyond corn, green beans and mashed potatoes. Langin sampled zucchini, acorn, butternut and yellow squash. He missed pasta, so his mother substituted spaghetti squash for angel-hair noodles, and Langin said he can’t tell the difference.
One day, Miller encouraged Langin to try three new machines in the workout area. The next time the two went to the machines, Langin had been on every apparatus in the place—and there are several hundred different pieces.
“He really will do whatever it takes,” Miller said.
Langin’s mother said it’s part of his tunnel vision. When something catches his interest, he gives it his entire focus.
Langin, who gets Social Security for his disability, decided to focus this year on getting fit. Next, he’ll set his sights on becoming a personal trainer.
“It’s like a light bulb went off in his head, and it burns every day,” his mother said. “Some days, brighter than others.”
‘NEVER BEEN HAPPIER’
Miller doesn’t refer to Langin as the guy with cerebral palsy or the one who lost 120 pounds.
“I describe him as the guy with no excuses,” he said.
He’s heard other trainers fuss at clients for not giving it their all. When Langin is on the floor, working out next to someone who is struggling, another trainer will point at Langin and say to his client, “He’s got cerebral palsy? What’s your excuse?”
Another trainer, who saw Langin on the stairs, nodded and said, “What’s up, superstar?”
Langin, who graduated from Courtland High School in 2011, recently worked out with some fellow graduates. Joshua Bailey and Peter Garrison played football at Courtland and were among the few who looked out for Langin in school.
“We all knew he had knee problems,” said Bailey, adding he had no idea Langin had the wherewithal to make such life changes. “You impressed me, John.”
Garrison called him “awesome.”
That interaction wouldn’t have happened 100 pounds ago, Miller said. Langin wouldn’t have seen the two in the gym or had the confidence to work out with them, the trainer said.
“People can’t believe the changes I’ve made,” Langin said, smiling. “I’ve never been happier in my life.”
John Langin had his motivation tattooed inside both forearms. “Determination–Dedication” is on one side, and “I only get this one body” on another. Langin has six goals:
- 1. To become a personal trainer.
- 2. To compete in a CrossFit event, which would test his overall fitness and strength.
- 3. To be under 200 pounds, “just to see it on the scale.”
- He hit 200 last week.
- 4. To tone up a little more.
- 5. To get to the peak of Old Rag Mountain. He and trainer Shane Miller made it 4 miles up, then had to turn around because they were pressed for time.
- 6. To run–walk a marathon.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425