Tony Williams was stressed out, burned out, overweight and on the verge of a major medical event. This is the story of how he tapped into his inner athlete and transformed into an elite racing machine.
Tony Williams’ job is not one you can phone in. As a partner and chairman for Washington 2 Advocates, a government relations and public affairs firm for some of the largest companies in the region (think Boeing, Alaska Airlines, T-Mobile, etc.), his job is to “learn about people’s most intimate professional issues, help sort them out and come up with a good solution. … I’m counsel on demand,” he says. This requires a lot of focus, energy and time, much of which is spent traveling about 125,000 to 150,000 miles a year.
Apart from his headquarters in Bellevue, Williams also has an office in Washington DC, where he lobbies the federal government on behalf of his clients, and an office in Portland, Oregon. With two sons, ages 10 and 16, and a wife, he’s got a pretty busy personal life as well.
So almost two years ago, when significant, energy-draining health problems started creeping into his life and affecting the different facets of his life, he quickly recognized he had a major problem on his hands. “For the first time in my life I didn’t feel good. I was tired; I was irritable; I didn’t have energy and was having dizzy spells. I just wasn’t right, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t fun to be around,” Williams says. “A family joke was that daddy doesn’t get sick, and I had been sick a lot, so that was the other thing. At one point I had a cough four weeks.”
“It wasn’t about vanity, and I wasn’t training for anything. I just didn’t want to explode.”
On top of everything, Williams was overweight. While he says it was only by 20 to 30 pounds, his overall appearance was “puffy and just unhealthy looking.” When Williams’ wife finally convinced him to see a doctor for a physical, he learned he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Fearing he was on the verge of a major medical event, his doctor wanted him to go on medication immediately.
It was a wake up call for Williams, who had been a typical three-sport athlete growing up in Oregon and who occasionally jumped on the treadmill for 30 to 40 minutes a few times a week, which he thought “made [him] the man.” Desperate to avoid a life on medication, he made a pact with his doctor. “She said to me, ‘You’re going to have a heart attack. You have three months, 90 days, to show me a difference,’ ” Williams says. “So I called the Club, and I said, ‘I think I need a trainer.’ At that point it wasn’t about vanity, and I wasn’t training for anything. I just didn’t want to explode.”
These days, at 50 years old—roughly two years after the initial appointment that shook him up—Williams is running marathons, clocking in at a blistering pace just six minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, one of the most competitive and prestigious marathons in the world. This February, he is hoping to shave those final minutes at a race in Phoenix. He also recently competed in GranFondo Whistler cycling competition (covering 75 miles from Vancouver to Whistler), and he made a trip to the Grand Canyon in which he hiked down and back up in just over nine hours.
Needless to say, he never went on medication. He also lost 30 pounds and lost the fatigue and irritability. Now he’s able to better focus at work and with his family. He also has more energy and is pleased to see that his body went from being puffy to having more muscle definition than it did in college.
“I’m a more pleasant person to be around,” Williams says. “I have more energy, patience. And now I understand why people enjoy running. I play all sorts of mental games, dreaming about my life, or thinking about something at work and coming up with a better idea—or I just say, ‘I hate Cory’ over and over.”
Cory is his trainer. And of course he’s joking. Williams’ credits Bellevue Club trainer Cory Patterson for a large part of his transformation and newfound health. Although Williams says he’s always been a driven person with a competitive spirit, Patterson gave him the right tools for his body and goals, which made all the difference.
“He has the go-getter personality, and he had an athletic background, so we had to get him to tap back into that,” Patterson says, who first and foremost had a serious discussion about what drives Williams, what his goals and limitations were. Then, the two got to work.
“There’s always going to be a hierarchy when getting started. Nutrition is first. Then resistance training because of the positive physical and hormonal responses it creates in the body,” Patterson says. “Cardio should be the last thing, but it’s usually the first thing people go to because it creates a feeling. You sweat; it’s uncomfortable. They feel exhausted, the legs are burning and the lungs are burning, but you have to have the other things in play. Not just more cardio, more cardio.”
The list of exercises and approaches Patterson took with Williams is extensive, often mixing in TRX, band resistance work, weights, cardio and sprints. “He manipulated my body in ways I never thought possible,” Williams says. As for his numbers, he says it’s a badge of honor to have blood pressure and cholesterol in the normal range, with a resting heart rate categorized in the athletic zone. “I feel more like an athlete versus just an old dude,” Williams jokes.
Above and beyond working out at the Club, Williams says one of the most valuable things he learned from Patterson is how to adapt this newfound lifestyle. When his knee started bothering him, Patterson was able to guide him in the right direction to heal it. And to overcome one of Williams’ major obstacles—traveling—Patterson helped him formulate workout routines for hotels and how to eat well on the road or on vacation.
“The friendship and having a teammate and coach has been the most valuable thing throughout this whole process,” Williams says. “I’ve learned great things from him, and it’s fun. It has to be fun.”
Do you want to get fit, lose weight, avoid medications and feel energized?
Advice from a trainer and his client:
Get a trainer that you have a good rapport with. We get down to business, but we also joke around a lot. Think about what you’re looking for in a trainer and come prepared.
In the beginning, remember that it’s just a start, and it’s only going to get better.
Make a commitment to yourself. For me, it was to my wife, my two children, the people who work for me, my 30-plus clients and my friends.
You’ve got to find your “why.” That’s what’s going to be your motivating factor.
Embrace the process, the learning, building process. Take it one step at a time.
One of the hardest things is going to be what happens when you arrive at your goal. The body is going to change, but the mental dialogue is not going to change as quickly. You’re going to have to ask yourself,