Twenty-nine-year-old Billy Wessels is no stranger to press row at TCU athletic events.
The publisher of Purple Menace, TCU’s page for college athletic recruiting website Rivals.com, Wessels has been part of the game day media at the university for more than a decade.
For Wessels, writing is his game, something that dates back all the way to his days studying journalism at TCU, from Fall 2004 to Spring 2009. Wessels received more than 180 bylines with the TCU Daily Skiff, now known as TCU 360.
Even though Wessels has excelled in writing since his days as a Horned Frog, he was previously weighed down in a completely different area of his life.
At a height of 6 feet 5-inches, Wessels weighed 450 pounds when he was a senior at the university. Within two years of graduating, he maxed out at 485 pounds.
“I don’t know how I got so big, but I was just always the big guy when I was younger,” Wessels said. “I look at pictures from when I was a student and I just realize that I was just a massive human being.”
Though Wessels found himself in undesirable circumstances being overweight, his struggle set him up for an inspirational and triumphant future. His battle with weight would be forever changed when his grandfather died of cancer in February 2010.
“My grandfather and I were super close, and I want to have that same kind of relationship with my grandkids one day that he had with me,” Wessels said. “Only thing is, it’s really hard to have grandkids in the future when you are only 24 years old and you’re a cheeseburger away from being 500 pounds.”
With his grandfather’s death serving as a wake-up call on maintaining good health in order to live a long and fulfilling life, Wessels became motivated to make a major change.
“It was tough during that first year, and he was what really lit a fire in me. He was a World War II hero and we just had so much in common, so I wanted to do everything I could to be that all-American type of person he was,” Wessels said. “That couldn’t happen with my weight.”
On February 20, 2011, the one-year anniversary of his grandfather’s death, Wessels went to a 24 Hour Fitness in downtown Dallas. It was his first time working out in an attempt to lose weight.
“I was there on a treadmill for 20 minutes going 2 mph, and that was all I could do,” Wessels said. “It was only two-thirds of a mile and I thought I was going to die.”
However, the first time struggles would not outweigh Wessels’ motivation, that was inspired by his late grandfather. Within a month after his short treadmill run, Wessels had lost 35 pounds. By February 2012, he had lost 80 pounds.
“It’s all about consistency and forming a pattern, because if you keep it up, you’re going to see results,” Wessels said. “It’s about not giving up.”
In due time, Wessels began expanding his workout routine beyond just cardio exercises.
“Obviously the common way to lose weight is cardio only, but I read that weights are better in some form,” Wessels said. “I stuck with the machines and stayed away from all the big muscular guys. I kind of hid in my corner and just did my thing.”
And Wessels’ persistence paid dividends.
Today, Wessels weighs only 275 pounds and works as a trainer at 24 Hour Fitness on Halloran Street near Interstate-30 in Fort Worth.
While losing more than 200 pounds may seem like a difficult task, Wessels said the necessary lifestyle adjustments are not as drastic as one might expect. Wessels said that one of the most basic changes he made was in his eating habits.
“I used to eat fast food three or four times a day,” Wessels said. “I then cut it back to just on the weekends, before [I allowed] only one ‘cheat meal’ a week. When you’re eating healthy four days a week, you’re making four-sevenths better choices and so on.”
Wessels said that his change in eating habits was influenced by a podcast he frequently listened to in his early days of working out.
“I would listen to a podcast called the Nerdist, where they would have a guy on there named Tim Ferriss who makes a living through doing experiments with his body from weight loss to muscle building,” Wessels said. “He was an advocate of the slow-carb diet, so I began by trying that. Simply put, you could only eat beans, veggies and meat.”
Wessels has still yet to reach his personal goal of 240 pounds, but he has previously hit a low of 260 pounds, and will undergo skin removal surgery next month. The surgery will remove an additional 30 pounds.
“I saw a doctor on my birthday last year and he told me that the surgery is the only way for me to safely get below 250 pounds,” Wessels said. “If I can get back to 260 before then, I will actually pass my weight goal after the surgery.”
The most remarkable element of Wessels’ weight loss story however might be that he accomplished a large percentage of it on his own. He didn’t start working with a trainer until he had already lost 150 pounds.
“At that point I knew I was on the path to success, so I began to work with a trainer at a 24 Hour Fitness in Mansfield,” Wessels said. “Within a year I had reached 285 pounds, and on that day I left the job I had at the Waxahachie Daily Light and began working at a 24 Hour Fitness in Fort Worth.”
He said by February 2015 he became a personal trainer.
Javier Guirola, a master trainer and colleague of Wessels at 24 Hour Fitness, said Wessels adds a unique flavor to the environment at the facility.
“We co-train clients and he provides for a fun and entertaining environment, which is something you need when you work 12 hours a day. He’s incredibly friendly and is learning more and more each day,” Guirola said.
Guirola added that Wessels’ success story gives him an edge in helping clients achieve their goals.
“He is awesome with helping people in losing weight,” Guirola said. “Lots of people quit or they plateau, and I haven’t seen that with Billy’s clients in the year I’ve known him.”
Though Wessels may excel in helping clients seeking to lose weight, he said it is eye-opening to see different clients strive for different goals, some exactly opposite from his own.
“My first client was 130 pounds and trying to gain 30 pounds,” Wessels said. “The fact that somebody wanted to gain weight blew my mind.”
Wessels said he loves being a sportswriter, and all the opportunities that come with it, but working as a trainer is special in a different way, because of its relational element.
“The clients become like family,” Wessels said. “It’s about sharing a lot of things because weight is a struggle for so many people, and something they don’t like to talk about a lot. They’re sweating and crying and saying they can’t do it, and you become someone who they can lean on and be encouraged by.”
Wessels added that his weight loss has also made it easier for him to interact with people. It’s been an essential element of being both a personal trainer and member of the media.
“I like people a lot more now,” Wessels said. “People treat you better when you lose weight, which is unfortunate that it takes that, but it’s the reality of things.”
With his weight loss goal on the horizon, many people have expressed awe over what Wessels has gone through in his life-changing journey.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram crime reporter and TCU alumnus Ryan Osborne, who previously worked with Wessels at Purple Menace, said it is remarkable to see the progress Wessels has made over the past five years.
“I’ve seen him a lot over the past few years, so at first it was hard to realize how much weight he lost, but pictures really made it more clear,” Osborne said.
Osborne noted that many people who knew Wessels had the same reaction of amazement when the two hung out.
“We’d go somewhere such as The University Pub and people in there would be shocked to see how much weight Billy had lost,” Osborne said. “It’s awesome what he has done, and seeing people recognize that is really cool.”
Osborne applauded Wessels’ ability to translate his perseverance as a writer into the challenge of losing weight.
“Billy had to really persevere and it really paid off,” Osborne said.
As Wessels prepares to undergo skin removal surgery next month, he looks forward to potentially meeting his weight goal and doing physical activities which may not have been possible before.
“There are things I haven’t been able to do athletically,” Wessels said. “I want to dunk, and it’s funny I haven’t been able to do that and now approaching 30 I might be able to, but I know I’m close.”