Sometimes in order to grow, you may have to shrink.

Just ask Dan Benintendi, a Fort Worth, Texas father, husband, and endurance athlete. A former high school athlete, Benintendi was used to being able to eat whatever he wanted. When his activity levels dropped after graduation, his weight gain moved in the opposite direction. During the years following high school, Benintendi went from a solid 215 pounds to his highest weight of 400 pounds in 2008.

In January of that year, Benintendi underwent gastric bypass surgery and in the last two years has completely transformed his life. He’s completed several endurance events including marathons, ultras, triathlons and even Ironmans. On the eve of this month’s Ironman Arizona, Benintendi’s second Ironman, LAVA sat down with him to hear more about his inspiring turnaround. 

Benintendi in post

Benintendi races the 2010 Ironman Arizona

The impetus for the change came with the realization that he was no longer living a “normal” existence.

“I work with the youth at church and we went to an amusement park,” he recalls. “I got kicked off every ride because I couldn’t fit. I also used to travel quite a bit for work and would have to ask for the seatbelt extenders while my body spilled into the seats next to me.”

The lowest point was undoubtedly the day his wife—his partner since high school who’s seen him at his best and worst—told him that she felt like a single parent. “I came home from work and my wife had just had the roughest day of her life,” he remembers. “All I had enough energy to do was go sit down in my chair and watch TV. I didn’t even have energy to go to the store or help with the children.” That night, she told him something needed to change.

Just 9 months after his surgery, which transformed his stomach from the size of a football to the size of an egg, the new Benintendi completed his first sprint triathlon. He finished second in his division, and two months later, completed his first marathon. “When I get involved in something, I do it whole-heartedly,” he says. “Whether that be eating myself to an early grave or getting involved with endurance sports.”

Now, not only has his outlook on life changed, but his family has also benefited from Dan’s boundless energy and spirit. His wife is now training for her first marathon, and the Benintendi family stays active together by participating in fun runs and walks in the Fort Worth area.

“I used to listen to people when they’d tell me I couldn’t do something,” he says. “Now, I love it when they tell me I can’t do something because that means I’ll go and do it.” That, of course, includes more Ironmans, 100-mile ultra marathons, and even a12-mile Strait of Gibraltar swim from Spain to Morocco next August.

Benintendi’s mother once gave him a sign that read, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Even that sign has taken on a new meaning to her son, when it comes to getting in shape, succeeding in endurance events, and mentoring others. I know the way, I’m going the way, and I want the opportunity to show others the way,” he says. “I truly believe that anything is possible and the only thing that keeps us from achieving our goals is right between our ears. Period.”

While he competes to stay healthy, he also races for those who can’t. “When I do an event, I really feel for those folks who are still in a spot where they can’t even walk to their car without pain. I feel like I’m carrying them on my back and saying, ‘we can do this together. You’re going to help me and I’m going to help you.’”

In the last two years, Dan Benintendi has shrunk to almost half his size in weight. The capacity of his heart and spirit, however, has grown to epic proportions.

Dan finished Ironman Arizona in 13:16:24. Visit him online at www.trimywill.com