Back in the saddle: Civilian takes the long way home
August 12, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. - As Fort Jackson commuters wait in traffic, burn gas and stress out, Thomas Tennant pedals his way to the office and better health.
Tennant, chief of the Personnel Services Division for the 81st Regional Support Command, has been biking to work three times a week for the past nine months and so far has lost 60 pounds and saved about $60 a month in gas.
"Riding my bike to work has really changed my life," said Tennant, who lives in Northeast Columbia. "I am not stressed coming in to work and I am not stressed when I get home. I have a shower area to use when I get to work. I can ride in, shower and be at my desk by 8:30 a.m.
Tennant, who rides 15 miles each way to Fort Jackson, began his cycling quest as a way to drop pounds after a series of heart problems.
"When I was mobilized and deployed in 2004 I developed problems moving around. I was 50-plus years of age trying to keep up with younger people out in the Kuwaiti desert," he said. "I would do PT and would be wiped out."
After returning home due to a back injury, Tennant's doctors ordered a checkup and discovered the arteries in and around his heart were beginning to clog. A series of stints and angioplasties had him on the road to recovery. But there was still something missing.
"My doctor told me I had to change the way I eat and exercise. I had to do an entire health changeover," he said. "I was still not strong enough for strenuous cycling. Because of my heart condition they were worried about me throwing my body chemistry out of whack. They wanted me to take it slow and gradual."
Tennant then moved to Columbia in 2008 to help organize the new building for the 81st Regional Support Command at Fort Jackson.
"Even though I had been aggressively trying to improve my health, I still got winded going up stairs," he said. "At that point I had a 21-inch neck, 55-inch waist and weighed 280 pounds. The doctors told me I had made some positive changes but was not doing enough. That is when we started getting really serious."
Tennant quit eating chocolate and sweets and hopped on his bike.
"It is just about changing your lifestyle," he said. "Holding myself accountable has been key for me losing weight. The most important tool in my toolbox is a dietary scale for my food and a scale that does my body fat percentage."
The former reserve Soldier credits his wife, Judy, for supporting him whether it be picking him up during a ride in stormy weather or preparing healthy meals.
"I know he is eating healthy because I cook for him," she said. "The exercise is all up to him. I am with him 100 percent, but I haven't been riding. I just try to help him eat properly. He is OK as long as he doesn't sneak chocolates."
In addition to commuting to work, Tennant has begun riding in charity rides including a 92-mile trek to Charleston for the South Carolina Alzheimer's Association and 26-mile ride for a diabetes foundation.
But Tennant's favorite ride begins outside his front door and ends at Fort Jackson.
"I have become somewhat of a fixture on the ride to the office," he said. "I wish we could get more people to ride their bike to work. This (post) is wonderful. It gives me a safe place to do some heavy-training rides without the idiots on the road."