From 406 lbs to running half marathons, and one day dreaming to race an Ironman, Dave Panganiban’s story is all the motivation you’ll ever need
By Gemini Quintos | Photos courtesy of Dave Panganiban
Dave Panganiban’s big and tall physique has always made him a natural athlete, but two devastating back-to-back injuries led to an unhealthy body and mind. After a health scare and the birth of a niece, he embarked on the most important journey of his life. If there’s anything Panganiban can tell you about his health and fitness story, it’s that it’s just as much a mental and emotional journey as it is a physical one.
An Athletic Career Cut Short
People who meet Dave for the first time often have the same reactions.
“You must be a football player.”
“Are you Samoan?”
“You look like The Rock!”
Not surprising, considering his imposing 6’1 stature and physique. It’s a no-brainer that Panganiban played on his high school American football team and was a hopeful for a college football scholarship. That opportunity escaped him, however when he tore his ACL in the middle of senior year. But Panganiban didn’t lose all hope; he planned to rehabilitate and join the team at the University of Houston as a walk-on.
Leading up to the try-outs, he got his knee checked to make sure everything was good to go—and learned from his physician that his knee was “hanging by a thread.” Needless to say, that ended his potential football career once and for all. What followed was a downward spiral of stasis and consumption, and the resulting weight gain and low self-esteem.
“I used my size to my advantage when I was younger by playing sports,” he says. “It wasn’t until after my injuries and becoming less active that I started to really struggle with my weight. Then, it just got to a point where I couldn’t find clothes that fit, didn’t want to go out just because it was tiresome to do anything, even tying my shoes.”
Back when I was larger, I was very discouraged to go out for a variety of insecurities. One night, I got so angry that I couldn’t find anything to wear because I couldn’t fit into anything, that my sister went out to buy me a shirt. She came back with a shirt in the largest size the store carried, XXXL, and it didn’t fit. A year or so later, I found this same shirt. I tried it on, and was able to button it up. That was a physical indication that I was losing weight. As small as this accomplishment may seem, it was huge for me.
Third Wake-up Call’s a Charm
A serious wake-up call for Panganiban was when he saw a video of himself sleeping. It was meant to be funny, recorded by friends as a joke to poke fun at his loud snoring. But watching himself, Panganiban saw how serious it actually was.
“I would stop breathing for a few seconds, my left leg would twitch and my eyes would roll back, as if my body was being strangled,” he describes. “After a few seconds, my body would gasp for air and finally take a breath.”
This pattern would repeat throughout the night, every few minutes or so. “I was so big, not really having much of a neck, that my air passage was being blocked as I slept on my back. It was literally like watching myself being choked to death. After seeing that, reality sank in.”
Next thing I know, I’m rushed to the back, hooked up to an oxygen supply and heart monitor. My blood pressure was 220/110, weighing in at my heaviest of 406 pounds. It was definitely a moment where I had to stop and reflect
Panganiban admits that even after watching himself struggle in his sleep, he was still stubborn about making serious changes to his lifestyle. He went on a “diet” for a little while but didn’t fully commit to anything. One day after a snowboarding trip, he was having a lot of difficulty breathing. His mom pleaded for him to go to the hospital despite his resistance.
“We got to the emergency room, they hooked me up to an oxygen monitor, and then an alarm goes off,” Panganiban recalls. “Next thing I know, I’m rushed to the back, hooked up to an oxygen supply and heart monitor. My blood pressure was 220/110, weighing in at my heaviest of 406 pounds. It was definitely a moment where I had to stop and reflect.”
But old habits die hard, and it ultimately took the birth of new life for Panganiban to change his own. “It wasn’t until I held my niece and goddaughter, Corinne, that I truly realized that if I want to be around to help raise this beautiful baby girl, maybe even have one of my own one day, that I needed to change my life,” he says. “If I continued to eat and drink the way I did and not stop being reckless with everything, that dream would never come true.”
That was three years ago. Since then, Panganiban has become uncle a second time to Corrine’s baby sister, Penelope, and has cut his weight almost in half. “One day, when Corrine is older, I hope she truly understands how much she changed my life.”
A New Life
So, where does a former high school athlete turned obese, sedentary over-eater start to turn it all back around?
“It’s actually a funny story. I was always encouraged by family and friends to go to the gym, work out, or run, but I always came up with excuses not to,” says Panganiban. “One random day, my co-worker catches me walking out of the gym, and asks if I wanted to join a 12-week program he found online. I said yes, with the intention of absolutely bailing on him. The next day, I showed up, worked out, and just continued that pattern for 12 weeks. Next thing I know, I’m repeating the program a third and fourth time, sitting at X pounds less each time.”
The program was a life-changing jump-start to his new journey, but outside of it, it was up to Panganiban to keep himself motivated and on track. “I did have long-term goals, as minute as they were (running a mile under a certain amount of time, completing a half marathon), but I’ve accomplished them all,” he says. “Now, it’s more about the day-to-day grind, and how I can better myself in everything that I do. It can be something as little as an extra mile running, an extra pull-up, whatever. As long as I’m progressing, I’m happy.”
The one thing that I would say helped as I got older was my mentality and perspective on life. The more you experience, the more you realize and understand what is truly important. Had I not gone through certain stages in my life, I don’t think I would be where I’m at today.
A Shift in Mindset
An important turning point for Panganiban was his first half marathon last year. “When I first started this entire journey, I dreaded going up the stairs, never mind running a mile. Fast forward to 2016, I’m crossing the finish line to my very first half marathon. The feeling is indescribable,” he says. From then on, I’ve run multiple races, ranging from 5Ks and half marathons to 13+ mile obstacle courses in the mud. You could say that that race was what triggered my involvement with running, which is what I credit a great deal for my weight loss.”
More than any physical feat however, Panganiban stresses that the hardest battles are in your own mind. “You really have see your want to change as a necessity,” he says. “Until that point where you feel that this is the only option, you will never be able to push through ‘those days.’ Once I changed my mentality from fitness being a temporary thing to a lifestyle, everything fell into place.”
Dave credits his entire family, especially his niece and goddaughter Corrine, for making him turn his life around.
Now at a fluctuating weight of about 240 pounds, down from his heaviest of 406, Panganiban looks, to say the least, incredible. It’s too easy to look at his before- and after- photos and think, He did it. He made it. But he knows better than to think that way, reiterating that it’s an ongoing lifestyle, which means that goals are reached even as new ones are being put into place.
“I’ve said the number 225 (pounds) in the past, but that was a number out of thin air. I can’t say that I have a specific number in mind, but the goal is always to be healthier overall,” he says. “I do dream to one day be an Ironman or, crazy as it sounds, to compete on stage.” We can’t wait to witness it.