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The Catalyst

Healthy Charleston Challenge participant finds camaraderie, success

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

Katie Blaylock’s Spring 2014 Healthy Charleston Challenge’s Culinary Institute team includes Mark Hudgins,  from left, Maureen Griffin, Lisa Murray, Bob Murray, Bubba Walters, Rick Arnold, Alan Cabading, front row and from left, Mikie Hayes and trainer Katie Blaylock. photos provided

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” These words are more than just a famous quote, they describe how Bubba Walters treats friends and strangers alike. One month into his second Healthy Charleston Challenge (HCC), they also describe him.

Born and raised in Charleston, Walters epitomizes the true Southern gentleman. He opens doors for women, cuts wood for his 94–year–old nana who lives an hour away and makes sure he thanks the Lord for every blessing. He believes his wife is the world’s best mother and his eyes well up with tears when he talks about how much he loves his three kids. Those who know him say he has a heart of gold. They’re right.

His kindness toward others is one of the many reasons he is a beloved member of the HCC. When he walks into the auditorium for Thursday night meetings, people from many teams fondly greet him. During a recent workout that had his team running up and down several flights of stairs, huffing and puffing and dripping with sweat, Walters never failed to encourage his teammates with a “Great job, man,” or “Way to go Sugah’.”

But behind his gentle smile, he hides a personal battle. And though the demons of depression, anxiety and addiction conspire to defeat him, every day he perseveres.

Since he was a little boy, Walters dreamed of becoming a policeman. On career days, he hung on every word the officers shared. He wanted to save the world.

As soon as he was able, he joined the police cadets at 13 years old. He wrote up reports at the duty officer’s desk, proudly wore his shiny badge, and at age 14, he was finally able to ride in a squad car. For five years he learned what it meant to protect and serve.

He couldn’t join the force until he was 21 years old, so at age 18 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. When he returned to the U.S. from Germany, his lifelong dream became a reality — Walters was sworn in as a North Charleston police officer and for the next 18 years, he served his community and fellow man with courage and respect. 

The first official call to which he responded was a traffic fatality. He can still see the family involved in the accident like it was yesterday. “It was a heartbreaking wake–up call to death,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I directed traffic and prayed. Over the years, I prayed over every body.”

Nearly three decades later, the details have never left him. He can tell you what kind of soda a victim was drinking, how long the burning ash on the end of a cigarette was, what someone was wearing.

During those 18 years Walters saw the unthinkable: things, he said, no one should ever see. He was ambushed, shot at, had guns held to his head. Close calls such as these made him worry about his three little ones at home. It all took its toll.

Soon, he was no longer able to turn off the graphic visions that played in his head. He was exhibiting signs of post–traumatic stress disorder.  He spoke of it to no one.

“I was raised where the man is supposed to be strong and showing emotion was a sign of weakness. You put women on a pedestal, and you didn’t bring your work home or discuss it. You bottled it up and spent time by yourself,” he shared.

He began spending a lot of time by himself and beer seemed a good medicine to dull the pain. “I never wanted to drink in front of my family, so I isolated myself,” he said. 

In 2004, Walters was the night patrol watch commander and had a great deal of responsibility on him. A routine started taking shape. “I would work, come home, sit by myself and have several beers, gorge on high-calorie foods, and go to sleep. I started packing on the pounds,” he said.

Bubba Walters and son, Bubba Jr.

Walters loves his Southern comfort foods. He grew up drinking sweet tea and eating lots of Lowcountry staples: rice, beans, sausage, fried chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese and “big ol’ fat porkchops…I could kill about four of ‘em,” he said. They all remain temptations.

He tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), had surgery and gained 90 pounds.  His weight yo–yoed. He would “do good one day and eat an entire pizza the next.”

By 2004, he was drinking too much, eating horribly, and ruminating over the images that haunted him constantly. He began to realize his coping mechanisms were shot. He’d had enough.

He sought help from “two fantastic doctors at MUSC” and was admitted to the Institute of Psychiatry for treatment of depression and anxiety.

Walters retired from the force in 2005.

The Walters family at The Citadel’s senior ring hop. From left, Walters’ wife Karen, son Bubba Jr., son Jeremy, Bubba, and daughter Tiffany.

At his heaviest, he reached 405 pounds. His daughter Tiffany was involved in wellness and had done an internship at MUSC’s Wellness Center. She had seen the difference the HCC could make in someone’s life.

Tiffany is the reason he joined the program. “She told me she didn’t want me to have a heart attack and wanted me to be around a long time,” Walters said. She went online and signed him up for the fall program.

Walters started the challenge at 378 pounds. He immediately cut out all the junk and ate only heart– healthy foods. He worked out full throttle. It paid off. His first week he lost 16 and 1/2 pounds.

Then he suffered a physical setback. Something just didn’t feel right. His doctor limited his participation in the program to walking the track and practicing good nutrition while he performed tests to determine the problem. Walters never let down and continued to lose weight over the next few weeks.

Tests revealed his blood pressure and blood sugar were too low, then his arteriogram in Week 4 provided the welcomed all clear. His doctor took him off his medicines and said, “I’ll see you when you’re 70.” Walters was again giving it everything he had.

He’d received a clean bill of health physically, but emotionally it was a different story. His team saw a driven, funny motivator. They had no idea Walters struggled every day just to leave his home and get to the workouts; crowds and loud noises made him anxious. But he was determined not to let his team down.

“I was an athlete. I’ve always wanted to do good for my captain, the mayor, my team, for Janis,” he said, referring to Janis Newton, director of the HCC. That respect is mutual.

“Bubba is a great motivator, a natural leader, and has a charismatic personality. He is the perfect team member as he sincerely cares about the success of everyone and is not afraid to reach out to others,” she said.

Walter’s persistence paid off. Last fall during his first challenge, Walters was awarded “the most weight lost” having shed 77 pounds. His teammate, Mark Hudgins, won the overall challenge with biggest percentage of body fat lost.

When the fall challenge was over, Walters succumbed to holiday temptations and gained back some of his weight. Newton helped him overcome the setback and he hit the program hard when he started back in mid–January.

Newton said, “I tell everyone that until they get their head straight, they won’t get anything else straight.   Bubba understands that, and I am confident he will end up a great success story with the necessary mindset to redefine his health mentally and physically. Rarely does anyone just want to lose weight. Most participants have several areas of their life that need a positive behavior change.”

“I love this program,” Walters said. “The staff, the trainers, they are sincere. They truly care. Janis truly cares. They want the best for me: Katie, Tyler, Lilly, they all do. Every time I come through those doors, I feel like I’m wanted.”

Walters, at one month into his second challenge, has been the weight loss leader every week and is already down 50 pounds. His HCC trainer, Katie Blaylock, is proud of him.

"Working with Bubba has been a trainer’s dream. He shows up early, stays late, and has never once given up. Bubba's presence motivates me, his teammates, and everyone around him,” she said.

Walters knows he needs the challenge. “This program is important,” he said. “They teach you to listen to your body.  Sometimes I don’t want to come. Sometimes it’s hard. These old bones hurt. I can’t breathe. But, I haven’t been a part of something for 10 years and I am a part of something now. It’s the camaraderie. I can’t let my team down.”

Walters still must tackle his past every day, but he is resolved to face things head–on “I love my family,” he said. “I’m doing this for them.”

February 21, 2014

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