Making Health a Priority: Omar Alshaikhli
Interview by Nuno Costa
Let me introduce you all to Sea of Green member Omar Alshaikhli.
Omar started at Invictus in August of last year; he didn’t, however, get serious about his health until eight months later. Omar said the turnaround happened when he kept receiving encouraging emails from Coach Cat to come back since we’d notice he’d been ‘missing in action’. He was paying to be here, but he was working a lot of hours and could not maintain both his work schedule and his fitness at the same time; his job as a taxi driver sometimes require him to sit for fourteen hours a day.
He was at a crossroads, stuck between making money and caring about his health. Due to the combination of his back hurting and gaining a lot of weight, he started coming in regularly this past April. He finally reached a breaking point when he hit 262 pounds and decided to sacrifice his work, even if it meant he didn’t make some money; he realized he needed to make his health his top priority.
When he finally came back to the gym and everyone welcomed him back with open arms, he was struck with the motivation to stick with it. It was perfect timing, as the ‘Look Good, Feel Good Challenge’ was starting the following week. Omar wanted to challenge himself and do something for him; he was tired of gaining weight and complaining about his bad state of health. The LGFG Challenge was the perfect opportunity to compete, as he had been used to working hard his entire life (he once had to learn English in less than 9 months!).
Omar came as a refuge to the United States in 2006, from an unsafe Iraq. He sold his business as an auto mechanic and decided to move. Most of his neighbors were killed and he said that kidnapping, stealing and murder was common over there. Someone from his inner circle had recently been killed and he did not want to wait for his turn. He sold everything he had for cheap; everyone knew he was leaving, people took advantage of it, and he sold things for less than 20% of what they were worth.
On to Safer Grounds
He moved to Syria and stayed there until 2010, working as a welder (iron worker) while maintaining a good life. He had found a safe place to be. Luckily he was selected by the United Nations to move. At the time he had applied for supplies – rice, oil, blankets and other basic necessities – but in order to be eligible for all that they had to learn his story. He had qualified for supplies and he started receiving them every three months. After nine months they called and asked if he was interested in moving to the U.S. In Syria, he was working like a slave – super long hours and hardly any money to pay rent and make ends meet.
Then everything changed when, in late 2009, he came to San Diego. They called and asked him for another interview and had to do background; from there, he was selected, which meant he had to attend classes for three days to learn about the U.S. before they gave him his ticket.
Living the SoCal Life
Now, Omar lives here in San Diego with his wife and three boys.
At the time he moved here in 2010, the economy was terrible, so he was receiving assistance from the government as a refuge and then he went to school to learn ESL (English as a Second Language). Omar spent six months in adult school where he was able to learn English equivalent to 7th grade level. He wanted to be able to communicate with people here.
Omar’s Fitness Goals and Challenges
Since his previous fitness experience was to focus on gaining muscle, he found that he was struggling with knowing how to lose fat. As he began his fitness journey, he was mostly concerned with eating less, until he found out that eating REAL foods should be the greater focus. That, along with the newness of combining lifting weights with conditioning, gave him better results.
In April, right before he started attending group sessions regularly, he weighed 259 pounds; now, just 3 months later, Omar is now down to 236.
“At first I ate freely and only lost 10 pounds,” he said. “And then I spoke with Coach Cat because I was plateauing and needed to change my diet so that I could see better results.”
Omar was confused about how to continue to achieve these goals past the plateau, so reaching out to a coach really helped. He figured out that while at work, he could go to a salad bar where he fills up a huge carton with vegetables, meat, nuts and seeds and some oil and takes it with him to eat throughout the day.
“At first I thought it was a lot of food – but that’s when the weight really started coming off,” recalls Omar.
Once he started seeing results with this approach, he started doing it consistently. The food was tasty, and he kept changing the flavors by adding spices and sauces – even though he was still eating the same foods!
Long Term Goals
Omar, who is currently in the middle of experiencing Ramadan, still has another thirty pounds to lose before he reaches his goal. During Ramadan, Omar will have to fast (from eating or drinking even water) from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. each days.
For the long term, he wants to be around for his future grandkids, and then some. He wants to be healthy and to be able to be there for his family. And most of all, he wants to be an example to his family; being able to do things that maybe younger people can’t do or things that people use as excuses, such as age.
Omar has a piece of advice for those starting out with CrossFit or on any new journey.
“You may struggle; you will experience some pain but stick with it. The longer you stay with it, the easier it will be. The more consistent you are, the more you will feel a part of and after two months you will feel like you belong.”