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Superintendents share their journeys as part of a weight loss challenge

By and |  August 11, 2022 0 Comments

Superintendents have a plan for mostly everything on their course. But, as it turns out, they might not always have a plan for themselves.

“We’re the most regimented people when it comes to growing things and watching what we put on the greens and the turf and in the soil; we calculate everything. But when it comes to our bodies, we kind of just go dumb. It’s borderline comical,” Kyle Callahan, director of golf course and grounds for Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C., says.

Callahan and Tony Nysse, director of golf course and grounds for Mountain Lake in Lake Wales, Fla., started a weight loss challenge as a friendly competition between themselves and a handful of friends in the industry.

Word of mouth allowed the scope of the challenge and its number of participants to grow significantly across its seven-month span. The first eight-week challenge brought together over 140 agronomists and industry professionals, competing for not only money but the chance to transform their lives.

Below are the stories of industry professionals who participated. They share tips for shedding pounds and keeping them off while handling the stress of their jobs.

Tom Kaplun

Superintendent, North Hempstead Country Club, Bellmore, N.Y.

Health blind spots can pop up in the typical day-to-day life of golf professionals, says Tom Kaplun, superintendent at North Hempstead Country Club in Flower Hill, N.Y.

He said this year’s weight loss challenge came at the perfect time for him, just a few months after starting his own fitness initiative. The 42-year-old Kaplun, a former football player at Cornell University, dropped from 298 to 243 pounds since New Year’s Day and doesn’t plan to stop there.

“I came to a point where, as a father of three kids trying to balance work, the needs of my crew and family life, it made me realize I needed to make healthier

choices to sustain that life and my career,” he says. “The contest was great ammo for me and helped me stay disciplined. I’d let my weight tail off, and around Thanksgiving last year, I really started to prioritize that.”

While Kaplun didn’t take home any winnings from the weight loss contest, he did place second in a local eight-week body mass index transformation competition. He also took part in a recent half-marathon and maintains a busy workout regimen following Orangetheory Fitness guidelines of a 60-minute high-intensity workout based on heart rate.

“I look forward to it now. It’s been such a great life change, just thinking back to getting this whole thing started last year and this (weight loss contest) coming up,” he says. “I saw it and said, ‘Yes, I want to do that,’ right away.”

In regard to advice for fellow industry professionals considering new fitness initiatives, Kaplun said to never minimize the overlap of physical and mental health.

“The most important thing you have to do on this job is maintain a mental awareness of yourself and how you’re doing personally,” he says. “This is a tough, demanding job. It’s just as tough mentally as it is physically. If you don’t hold onto a certain mental wellness with yourself and put yourself first sometimes, this job and this industry can really take a toll on you. That goes for at work and outside of work.”

Kyle Callahan

Director of golf course and grounds, Thornblade Club, Greer, S.C.

Callahan lost 50 pounds during the first eight-week run of the challenge. He says it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his crew, who understood his goals and supported him.

“I worked with my team, and they knew what my goals were, and they supported it,” he says of his weight loss strategy. “I scheduled a couple of training sessions during my lunchtime so that I could try to squeeze it in. I altered parts of my schedule, especially because it was that early spring and winter when that’s easier to do.”

Callahan says he prefers to work out in the morning, which isn’t easy to do in the summer when work starts as early as 5 a.m. on the course. The initial eight-week challenge took place during the transition from winter to spring, which made it easier for him to get to the gym on his terms.

His biggest change was eating healthy at work. He says the biggest reason people put on weight and can’t take it off is that they put themselves last.

“It’s hard to be able to say; I’m going to quit watering greens because now is my time to fuel my body. So, what do we do? We push it off, we get done with our priorities and then it’s like, oh yeah,” he says. “That’s what makes it so hard. It can become very difficult to put yourself first, mentally and physically.”

Photos: Joe Wachter

Photos: Joe Wachter

Joe Wachter

Superintendent, Glen Echo Country Club, Normandy, Mo.

Joe Wachter, superintendent at Glen Echo Country Club in Normandy, Mo., joined the weight loss challenge as a way to get back into shape after COVID-19 knocked him out of his normal routine. He didn’t think he could lose enough to win any money, but he was, at the very least, donating to the weight loss cause and doing something good for himself.

Like Callahan, Wachter says that even though he stays active on the course while he works, it is not a substitute for exercise.

“I’m in a small enough course where I have daily duties,” he says. “I’m either changing holes or riding a mower. Every once in a while, I can pick and choose. So I had some activity level, but it’s still not exercising. It keeps your joints going, but it’s not the exercise you really need when your eating isn’t the best.”

Wachter started walking as a way to exercise. He says he walked 40 or so minutes around his neighborhood. Those short walks turned into long walks and, eventually, runs.

“I decided to run a marathon in April. I said, ‘man, I’ve always thought about doing it.’ Well, to run a marathon, I had to do a 15-minute mile,” he says. “Those aren’t necessarily easy for me. I can push really hard and learn to maybe get to (15-minute mile pace), but I didn’t know if I could get to the point of running over 26 miles at that pace.”

Wachter trained for and ran in his first marathon, the 2022 Go! St. Louis Marathon in nearby St. Louis, Mo. Wachter clocked a 14-minute per mile pace.

“I think the one thing that I’ve found is that I’m not doing this to see if I win or not, but just to challenge myself and keep my effort going so that I don’t drop off,” he says of distance running.

Photo: Ken Newcomb

Photo: Ken Newcomb

Ken Newcomb

Operations and sales manager, Underhill International

Ken Newcomb, operations and sales manager for Underhill International, says the weight loss challenge helped him drop nearly 100 pounds since last year.

“I was super overweight and got started on it about a year before (the contest),” he says. “That turned into me losing about 80 pounds, and by the time the contest got started, I was down to my last 30 or so (to lose). I don’t remember off the top of my head what I lost for the contest, but it’s been about 15 (pounds). The giant steps were already done, though.”

Among participants in the contest’s first round that started in January, Newcomb said practices like weekly check-ins and holding each other accountable proved invaluable to his weight loss transformation.

“People were just overjoyed to have someone to talk to and share something that maybe they were struggling with that day,” he says. “It created this real team atmosphere you could feel during every conversation.”

During the weight loss contest, Newcomb realized the mental health benefits that came with the weight loss challenge.

“I’m not a superintendent anymore, and a lot of meetings took place during superintendent hours,” he says. “I didn’t get to participate in those, but I know those guys were just very happy to have that outlet to talk to each other.”

Newcomb served as a superintendent in Simi Valley, Calif., for American Golf Corporation from 2000 to 2006. That led to stints as regional director for ClubCorp in Arizona and vice president of California’s Par West Turf Services before signing on with Underhill International in June 2021.

He says the contest’s virtual chats among superintendents brought back memories from his years at the golf course but also a sense of comfort, knowing those following in his footsteps have expanded options for support.

“I know those weekly Zoom (meetings) opened up from just losing weight to overall health, mental health, mindfulness, you name it,” Newcomb says. “I know guys talked about stuff that, after all these years, showed me they’re under a lot of the same stresses I used to have. It helped a lot of people.”

Photos: Andy Eick

Photos: Andy Eick

Andy Eick

Director of facilities and agronomy, Mohawk Golf Club, Schenectady, N.Y.

Andy Eick says he was already in the midst of a four-year weight loss journey before joining the superintendent weight loss challenge.

Eick joined a gym in New York called Metabolic Meltdown after a recommendation from a fellow superintendent at the 2018 Golf Industry Show. That, coupled with a deep dive into tracking macronutrients in his diet, has helped him shed 73 pounds.

“It’s been a long journey. It took me that long to get that big; it’s going to take that much longer to get back down to where I want to be,” he says. “I’ve been doing a great job sticking and being consistent with it.”

Eick’s best advice to agronomists looking to lose weight is to focus on the small wins.

“If you have the mindset of winning the hour, winning the day, then that turns into winning the next day and the week. The next thing you know, you’re winning the month, and it just stacks itself up. Then you’re looking at a whole different you. It becomes a lifestyle,” he says.

Randy Chilton

Senior sales specialist, Rain Bird

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of a push from a friend. Randy Chilton says it was thanks to a friend in the golf course irrigation industry that he joined the weight loss challenge.

As a result, Chilton lost 20 pounds in two months. He says the accountability to someone else helped motivate him to keep up with the challenge.

“A few weeks before they asked me to join, I flew out to Arizona, and my wife wanted me to read a book called “The Obesity Code” by Jason Fung M.D., about why we don’t lose weight,” Chilton says.

Chilton says reading that book was a wake-up call and opened his eyes to how to lose weight. He says he now fasts for one day a week and rides his bike eight to ten miles daily to keep that weight off.

“What I would tell you is, we all have the time. We just have to find the will to do it,” he says.

Rob Dorsch

Superintendent, Richter Park Golf Course, Danbury, Conn.

For Rob Dorsch, joining the weight loss challenge was a way to drop weight after a meeting with his doctor. Dorsch, a cancer survivor, says his doctor told him he needed to lose weight weeks before the beginning of the challenge in late 2021.

From the beginning of the challenge until mid-July, he’s down 21 pounds. His strategy mostly included diet changes by making healthier choices when he did eat.

He also found time in his daily routine for exercise. Dorsch joined a gym and signed up for a class so that he had to go.

“I made sure I carved out at least 30 minutes a day for exercise,” he says. “Once it became a routine, the course is always going to be there; we’ve got to take care of ourselves and take the time to do it.”

Like the others in the challenge, Dorsch agrees that a superintendent’s job makes it harder to drop and keep extra weight off.

“It makes it very difficult. You’ve got the stress of dealing with mother nature, the stress of dealing with golfers, and we work crazy hours. So it’s much easier to grab an unhealthy meal than it is to grab something that’s good for you. But it can be equally as easy to make good choices; you have to be willing to make the change.”

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