WYOMING — Doug Ouimette, owner of the Subway sandwich shop on Main Street, knew his former employee, Ben Barber, had a serious weight problem. He didn’t realize just how serious, however, until the day in 2007 when he noticed that Barber, now 26, of Richmond, had trouble reaching the opposite side of the sandwich unit.
At about 400 pounds, his stomach simply stretched farther out into space than his arms.
“He had gotten to a point where for him to get to certain products he had to turn sideways and reach,” recalled Ouimette.
The business owner was spared the sad duty of having to let Barber go, after Barber announced that he was leaving the job anyway, in order to pursue a career in theater. Still, Ouimette remained concerned for the young man’s health and welfare. After all, Barber had worked at the Subway, his first job, since he was 15. He and Ouimette’s son, Doug Jr., were close friends and teammates on the football squad at Chariho High School.
When Ouimette ran into him one day last year, he was dismayed to see that Barber had grown even heavier, to just over 600 pounds, thanks to a deadly combination of lack of activity and overeating. A family propensity toward obesity also contributed to his condition.
“I said to him, ‘Ben, the way you are going, you could be dead in four or five years,’” Ouimette recalled.
With deadened eyes and sallow rolls of flesh wreathing his face, Barber looked despairingly at his former boss and replied, “I think it will be more like four or five months.”
Today, all that has changed. Barber’s face, not to mention his optimism for the future, has emerged from beneath those pounds, thanks to a rigorous and determined regimen of exercise, diet, and positive thinking. Over the past 18 months, he has shed 150 pounds, thanks to his commitment to changing his lifestyle and the remarkable support of the local business community, inspired by Ouimette’s determination to help Barber save his own life.
It began soon after that day when Ouimette confronted Barber about his health.
In addition to running his own production company, New Shore Productions of Westerly, Barber worked as a telemarketer from home, a job that kept him sedentary and isolated in a 10-by-10-foot room all day. Ouimette’s idea was simple: Get Barber out of the house and moving, at least once a day.
“So I offered to give him a free sandwich every day, just so he would at least get out of his room,” Ouimette said.
Eating at Subway daily improved the health of the company’s famed, slimmed-down spokesman, Jared Fogle. Ouimette thought a healthy sandwich (turkey or chicken breast) might do Barber some good as well. But the sandwich shop owner took the effort a step further by dropping by Anytime Fitness, a local gym just down the road.
“Doug came into the gym and said he was looking for a personal trainer who might be willing to work with someone who couldn’t afford one,” recalled trainer and former Anytime Fitness employee Glen Ambrose, now with Thrive Personal Training of Westerly. “I had made a note to myself earlier in the year to find someone to help who was in Ben’s situation. So I said to him, ‘I want in on this.’”
The gym offered Barber a free membership, and he and Ambrose began working together on a program that included, surprisingly enough, more mealtimes.
“I started out by advising Ben to eat more often during the day, but smaller portions. This way, the body doesn’t feel like it’s starving all the time, and develops healthy habits,” said Ambrose.
Then there were the workouts: with Ambrose twice a week, and on his own four times a week at Anytime Fitness, doing aerobics (treadmill, cross ramp) and resistance training (weights). Later, Barber added yoga to the mix. Ambrose said it all hinged on an attitude change.
“This is a mental and emotional journey,” said Ambrose.
“A lot of people think that once they lose weight, they will be happy. What you really have to do is change the way you think about yourself.”
To begin this process, Ambrose recommends taking pride in accomplishments, however small and incremental. In Barber’s case, according to Ambrose, these included such “victories” as being able to finally fit between the swinging arms of the cross ramp machine, or being able to climb a set of stairs without exhaustion.
Another significant turning point in Barber’s journey was the time he was able to walk from Grand Central Terminal to the theater district in New York — one of his favorite field trips — without huffing and puffing.
“It had nothing to do with looking at myself in the mirror, but everything to do with feeling that sense of accomplishment. I walked the whole day in the city without getting tired. That was something I could never do before,” said Barber.
Neither Ambrose nor Barber have any specific weight goal in mind.
That is not what Barber’s lifestyle change is about, he said.
“My goal is to always be improving,” said Barber, who has fully embraced Ambrose’s one-step-at-a-time philosophy. “Nobody can jump to the top of a mountain.”
Meanwhile, he remains grateful to Ambrose, to Anytime Fitness, and to Ouimette, who still fixes him a free sandwich each day, for all coming together as they did to help him.
“I can’t say enough about what an amazing trainer Glen is, or how generous Doug and Anytime Fitness have been,” said Barber, avowing that they collectively gave him his life back.
“I feel like a completely different person,” he said, with a long-lost lift in his voice. “I feel like myself again.”