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The Six Pack on the Starting Line

Aired August 6, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning to all of you as well. Welcome to the program. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The Nautica New York City triathlon is finally here. Now, we are coming to you from the banks of the Hudson River in New York City.

Tomorrow morning, more than 3,000 athletes are going to be here, and they're going to jump into the Hudson River. They are actually going to jump from this barge right over here. It is a 1,500 meter swim followed by a 40 kilometer bike ride along Manhattan's west side highway, just a beautiful bike ride topped off with a 10 kilometer run through Central Park. Like I said lots of energy and fun and lots of people here.

Among those athletes, and this is the second year we have done this, among those athletes is going to our own CNN Fit Nation "Six Pack," as we've gotten to call them. You've become -- you know, you've known them over the past several years here on SGMD. They come from all sorts of different backgrounds, different walks of life. But they all share one thing in common. Tomorrow morning, they're going to mark the end of the sedentary lives they used to lead and the beginning of these new healthy lifestyles that they're going to continue to live.


(voice-over): Six regular people, each with their own reason for wanting to take on the CNN Fit Nation triathlon challenge.

DR. SCOTT ZAHN, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: Recently, I saw my primary care physician for the first time in many years. I have high blood pressure. I have too many of the bad lipids and not enough of the good lipids. And I left that visit on three new medications.

GUPTA: For some, it was about breaking a cycle of bad food and no exercise.

KENDRICK HENLEY, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I am 25 years old. I am 340 pounds. And I often ask myself, you know, how did I get to this point? What did I do?

STASIA CIRRICIONE, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I'm just a Midwestern girl that was raised on sugar and fried foods and pop.

GUPTA: For others, it was about setting a healthy example for friends and family. JOAQUIN BRIGNONI, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I'm entering the Triathlon Challenge for three reasons. And here are my three reasons. Those are my little girls.

GUPTA: We chose these six CNN viewers to be a part of our 2011 Triathlon Challenge. Joaquin Brignoni, a father of three who drank soda so often that his 1-year-old started asking for it. Stasia Cirricione, a Midwesterner who felt drained of energy after eating so many processed foods. Dr. Scott Zahn, a pediatrician with a family history of heart disease. Kas Seerla, a stay-at-home mom who was so focused on academics growing up, she never had time to learn a sport. Kendrick Henley, a young health care professional who gained more than 150 pounds while in grad school. And Nina Lovel, a Baby Boomer who told us that older doesn't have to mean slower.

NINA LOVEL, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: (INAUDIBLE) if 60 is the new 40, we better be getting busy.

SIX PACK: We're the 2011 Six Pack!

GUPTA: As participants in our challenge, they would spend months training to race in the Nautica New York City Triathlon with me and my producers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, so let's talk a little bit about the sport of triathlon.

GUPTA: Laura Kosik (ph) owns a triathlon team (ph) and trains new athletes often. She agreed to help the Six Pack, along with April Burkee (ph), a professional triathlete.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For better or worse, I want to see two laps freestyle, so just a down and back, nice and easy freestyle.

GUPTA: The first time we all met was back in February.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The swim is going to be fast. It's going to be 20 to 30 minutes tops. That's all you have to do. So don't -- if you're not a strong swimmer, get your endurance up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really get your head down and under the water and then kick. And let's see that again. Use that wall. Ready, go! Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, you're going to ride up the whole West Side of Manhattan. You'll be on the West Side Highway. So you'll be looking over to the Hudson River.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, so now what I want you guys to do is I want you to clip out of your right foot and pedal only with your left. And good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The run is very difficult. It's hot. You've just finished, you know, already two hours and now you've got another hour and change to go. It's six miles. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once you feel a little comfortable, you can add a little speed, if you want to. If you feel like you're where you need to be, just stay there.

GUPTA: It was time to look in the mirror. Sometimes, if you want to do something big, you have to make big changes.

(on camera): Changing your diet, getting rid of that fast food -- how hard will that be for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's going to be very difficult. I think it's going to be doable, obviously, but it's going to be difficult. I always say, you know, if I could -- I would work out two hours a day if I could eat whatever I want.

GUPTA: What was your biggest concern about entering into this whole process?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Getting comfortable with the idea of learning how to swim, and in a way that I didn't know how.

GUPTA (voice-over): But there was no turning back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can tell by my license plate frame how excited I am about this triathlon.

GUPTA: When I reunited with the Six Pack three months later on the big island of Hawaii, they were stronger, faster and healthier and more confident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bike ride today, 23 miles. Seemed pretty hilly. There were a couple of really big hills that I just barely made it up. Other times, felt really good, comfortable. I'm happy I made it.

GUPTA: It wasn't all fun. We spent an afternoon in the emergency room after a spill on the bike. Nothing broken, luckily.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I kind of lost control of the bike and went into the gravel. And once I went into the gravel, I kept going closer towards the lava fields. And I just flew off the bike and hit the -- a lava rock, you know, chin first. So I luckily (ph) went to the doctor yesterday, just a few stitches. And you know, back at it again today.

GUPTA: And the Pacific is a tough place to do the first open water swim, which it was for Kas and Stasia. For Kas, it was a nerve- wracking experience.

KAS SEERLA, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I was not able to see the shore, so I got very disoriented and I started swimming away from the shore. And then I'd gone too far, and then I really didn't have the energy to swim back.

GUPTA: Back at home, she took an open water swim clinic.

SEERLA: Open water is, like, my nemesis.

GUPTA: And eventually swam a mile in Lake Michigan. She's still a bit nervous, but says she's ready for the Hudson. And so is the rest of the Six Pack. Kendrick has lost more than 30 pounds and has an eye on the finish line. Joaquin developed tendinitis in his Achilles but is not going to let that stop him from showing his girls what their dad can do.

And remember this guy? Take a look at him now. Scott now weighs under 200 pounds for the first time since the mid-1980s. He no longer needs any of his cholesterol or blood pressure medications.


GUPTA: Just unbelievable. And they had such amazing transformations.

Coming up next, we're going to introduce you to them. You're going to get a chance meet the Six Pack. They are here and they are ready.

You guys ready? No nerves there! Watch (ph) the lever. Amazing. None have ever done a triathlon before.

There's much more to the story. You can also log on to right now, check out my life stream for some extra videos, behind-the-scenes pictures. You can tweet with me. I'm going to be tweeting live this morning, as well, during the show.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD. I'm here at the Hudson River, where tomorrow morning, the "Six Pack" is going to dive into that water, take on the New York City Triathlon.

Now, before I check in with them, I wanted to share some news with all of you. After all these months of training, I am not going to be in the water tomorrow or on the bike or running. There is a story unfolding on the other side of the world that, frankly, hasn't gotten the kind of attention that it deserves. Now, in Somalia, a disaster is unfolding in slow motion. More than three million people are threatened with starvation, and a group of extremists is actually blocking these people from fleeing the country to try and find some food. It's a very difficult story to cover.

Well, I found a unique opportunity to try and show the world what's really going on, and it requires that I leave right away. So in the next several hours, I'm going to be on the plane en route to east Africa. Anderson Cooper and I are going to be reporting on this all next week. You can follow along on my life stream, as well, We'll have regular updates of this really important story as we try and get a handle on this tragedy and try and get the eyes of the world to focus on Somalia for some time before it is too late. So stick with us for that. In the meantime, though, we are going to be live at the race tomorrow morning. My colleague, Elizabeth Cohen, the Six Pack -- they're all going to be here. These six CNN viewers are regular people who just want to change their lives. Who doesn't want to do that in some say? They've made a tremendous personal journey just to get to the starting line. And tomorrow morning is their moment.

Now, joining me is Nina Lovel, who says 58 is the new 28, Dr. Scott Zahn, who's dropped literally a quarter of his body weight, and Kendrick Henley, who gained more than 150 pounds after college, but has completely overhauled his life in the past six months.

How are you guys doing?

LOVEL: We're great!


GUPTA: I know the excitement is there, for sure. Nina, let me start with you. You know, you talked about 58 being the new 28, but you know, this idea that, you know, we don't measure age, you know, by, you know, really revolutions of planets. I mean, it's a biological age. Do you feel younger?

LOVEL: Absolutely. I do feel younger. I feel better. And I don't mind being 58. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to be here, considering the alternative. But I feel so much healthier and have so much more energy since I started training.

GUPTA: Did you -- are you surprised that you're here?

LOVEL: Absolutely. Yes, I am surprised.

GUPTA: A year ago, could you have imagined it?

LOVEL: No. A year ago, I had not yet run my first 5K. I had not yet run a complete mile without walking one year ago (INAUDIBLE) August the 12th.

GUPTA: What made you submit that video?

LOVEL: I just thought that it looked like fun to do a triathlon. I like to play outside, and I had just started running and it looked like it would be fun to add a couple of more sports to it and get fit.

GUPTA: That's terrific. Scott -- let him take the microphone there. You have had a really remarkable transformation. You're a doctor. You're on the front lines of the pediatric (INAUDIBLE), you know, the childhood obesity epidemic. When you decided to submit that video, what were your goals?

ZAHN: For me personally to get healthier and start to lead a healthier lifestyle, but to show to my patients and their parents that you can make changes and be healthier, as well.

GUPTA: You were on medications when you started all this. You were on blood pressure medications. You were on cholesterol medications. You were like probably a lot of people watching right now. They were to be life-long medications for you, right?

ZAHN: That was the plan, yes.

GUPTA: At some point, they said you no longer need them.

ZAHN: Just recently, I got off of all my medications, so --

GUPTA: So you're completely medication-free. So your food and your exercise is now your medication.

ZAHN: Right. Yes. My lifestyle changes have allowed me to get off of my medications.

GUPTA: As a doctor out there, a lot of watching who are on these types of medications, what would you tell them?

ZAHN: Well, it can be done. I mean, once you start a medication, don't feel like it's -- you know, you're going to be on it for life. If you make some changes and you work hard and you change the way you eat, you can get off of them. And I did it in six months.

GUPTA: Yes, and you're probably a better role model for your patients now, as well.

ZAHN: Oh, definitely a better role model.

GUPTA: Kids watching you.

ZAHN: Yes.

GUPTA: Kendrick, why don't you go ahead and take the mike. You work in the health care profession. And you told me at the beginning, you said you hardly eat anything but fast food --

HENLEY: Right. Right.

GUPTA: -- on a regular basis. What made you decide to take this on?

HENLEY: You know, I just felt like I needed to make a change. I needed to take the first step to change to a healthier lifestyle.

GUPTA: How has it worked out for you?

HENLEY: You know, I think sometimes it's been difficult, but for overall, I think it's been very good.

GUPTA: You -- you -- a lot of -- you know, one of the questions I get all the time is, Can anybody do a triathlon? All of you were seen by your doctors prior to actually embarking on this, which is just to be safe. But what is your answer to that? Do you think anybody can do a triathlon?

HENLEY: Yes. I say yes. I just think it's important to take it one day at a time, you know, start small, and you know, gradually build up. You know, when I first started this, you know, I -- in my first bike class, I couldn't bike more than two minutes without stopping. And then, you know, eventually, I did 20 miles and then 30 miles. And you know, so take it one day at a time, step by step.

GUPTA: As I say, if you want to eat an elephant, how do you do it?


HENLEY: One bite at a time.

GUPTA: Yes. That's right. Indeed.

Look, you know, they're going to swim a mile. They're going to bike 26 miles. They're going to run more than 6. It's really incredible. None of them could have even imagined this a year ago. They're half this rock star team. You're going to meet the remaining members of the Six Pack.

And what about everybody else? What about you? You think you want to do this? I want to talk to you about how you can join us, as well, and also talk to a sports psychologist right after the break.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with a special live edition of SGMD. We're at the banks of the Hudson River in New York City. We're all getting ready for tomorrow's New York City Nautica Triathlon, a big, big undertaking for us over the last several months we've been training.

And before the break, you met three members of this year's Fit Nation Six Pack, as we like to call them. I want to introduce you to the rest of the gang now, Joaquin Brignoni, Stasia Cirricione and Kas Seerla. Thanks so much.

We've been at this for a while, Joaquin. It's amazing. One of the things I wanted to ask you about -- you know, you have three daughters. I have three daughters. People always say, How do you add this 'nother big time commitment to your life with the demands that you have of a job and family and all that? What would you say? How's it been for you?

BRIGNONI: You know, it's really been a process that -- it didn't have a whole lot of impact for us in terms of time-wise because I chose to do a lot of my workouts before the family was even awake.

GUPTA: Do you incorporate them at all into your workouts?

BRIGNONI: And I did that, as well. So you know, on the weekends, we would go to the pool. The girls learned how to swim and ride their bikes during this process, so it's been fantastic. GUPTA: Last year, when I did this, I found that there were a lot of unexpected benefits of doing this. Obviously, there's the fitness benefits and all that. But you made big changes in your life, as well, as a result of this.

BRIGNONI: Yes. Yes. You know, during this process, I was fortunate enough to not only reinvent my health but reinvent my career. I'm working for a great new company, Icon Systems, and you know, just feel really blessed that I had the opportunity to make these changes.

GUPTA: Changed man. You're a changed man.

BRIGNONI: Yes. Super.

GUPTA: (INAUDIBLE) take the microphone. You're pretty young. You're in your early 20s, and you decided to take this on, as well. But you wanted to actually not only do this for yourself, but also inspire your family members and people around you.

CIRRICIONE: Yes. It's definitely a lot more fun, the more people you can get involved. And my husband and I have actually started biking together, and he's hoping to complete his first Triathlon next spring, so we're looking forward to it.

GUPTA: That's fantastic. He's going to do it, as well.


GUPTA: If you're not biking, you know, with your husband, what would you have been doing last year around the same time?

CIRRICIONE: Maybe watching TV.


GUPTA: Yes. That's a pretty common refrain there. And Kas, you know, you have two small children, as well, and a mom. And you know, that's a full-time job, I know. How did you balance all this yourself?

SEERLA: I think it's tough, but it's not impossible. You know, you have to include your spouse. You've got to include family members and friends to help you with your training, as well as with the kids and the work that you need to do.

GUPTA: What has been the response from your family, your kids to this?

SEERLA: Oh, they've been very supportive. Great. My daughter wakes up and she's, like, Mommy, are you going to swim, run or bike today? So --

GUPTA: That's a pretty good question, again, because that's -- they're more likely to do that themselves. Well, I congratulate all of you. And obviously, it's going to be a very important morning, early morning for you tomorrow, but it's going to be very exciting.

We're also joined by Dr. Stephen Sands. He's a sports psychologist. And I was very excited to speak with you, as well. One of the things is just simply, you know, at that start line, people start to get the yips (ph). They start to get a little nervous. What are some of the things that you tell people, you know, to calm down those nerves?

STEPHEN SANDS, ASST. PROF., COLUMBIA UNIV. MEDICAL CENTER: Absolutely. It's a fantastic event and people are really excited and nervous, so it's important to realize you can experience both simultaneously, so to get them in touch with the excitement, is well -- that's why the heart is racing -- and to talk about -- distract them and talk to them about how hard they've trained, how well they've prepared, what this race means to them, and the joy of finishing, and also to set, goals but to be flexible.

And people are going to be really excited and it's a fantastic event and the testament (ph) of these Six Pack is just incredible.

GUPTA: You know, people out there watching right now, saying, You know what? This is not for me. I'm never going to do a triathlon out there. But a lot of that is because, mentally, they just can't get their -- you know, their arms around this. What do you tell people like that?

SANDS: That people -- we've worked with the New York City Marathon, as a psyching (ph) team and for here -- people come in all shapes and sizes. You set your own goal. You can see how making a decision and working hard and staying with it has effects with their work. The gentleman has a new job. Someone now working out with their wife or their husband.


SANDS: So it has a great effects all around your life. And so it's just to set your own goals and to work really hard for them and to keep focused on what -- why you're doing it and what your goals are.

GUPTA: Yes, I'll tell you another thing, you know, the energy is just so great. I mean, as exhausted as you may be, that adrenaline really gets you through this, as well. So very exciting. Thank you.

SANDS: Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you so much.

GUPTA: And still ahead, we're going to introduce you to a true inspiration. We're going to introduce you to the world's first triple amputee to compete in and finish the Iron Man, Kona. His message to everybody out there, You can change any situation for the better.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: Every week in "The Human Factor," we take a look at ordinary people who are accomplishing some pretty extraordinary things. And this morning, we're lucky enough to have him here live in person. His name is Rajesh Durbal. He was born without bones in his legs and with his right arm only partially developed. His legs were amputated by age 1.

But in 2009, he ran his first 5K. Think about that for a second. In 2010, he competed in and finished the Kona, Hawaii, Iron Man world championship. Just remarkable. And thank you so much for joining us.


GUPTA: You -- so you were born without -- a partially developed right arm, without legs. You had some significant obstacles, obviously, to overcome when doing this. First of all, what made you want to be a triathlete?

DURBAL: Just the challenge, just doing -- taking a leap of faith and doing something that I've never done before just frightened me. Swimming, biking and running was never anything in the cards of what I can possibly do, so it scared me. So that's why I wanted to do it.

GUPTA: You said, you know, People are going to tell me I can't (ph) do this. So in fact, I'm going to do it and I'm going to do the hardest -- arguably the hardest athletic competition out there.

DURBAL: Yes. Why not? If you don't go big, you can go home, right?


GUPTA: You know, I first learned about you -- Dr. Joe Maroon (ph), who you know is also an iron man triathlete, and he says he was near the end of this race, he was suffering, he thought didn't have anything that he could dig deep on and finish off the race. And then he heard you coming along with your prosthetic legs behind him and actually eventually catching up and passing him. Do you remember that?

DURBAL: Oh, yes. It's something that will forever be etched in my mind. It's a lasting memory. We call it the 10-second encounter, Dr. Maroon and I. And we couldn't say anything at that time. It's all pitch-black out there on the Queen Cape (ph), and the light shined at that specific time and he saw my blades, and I put my arm on his shoulder and I said, Don't give up, you're too close to the end.


DURBAL: And that was it. I kept on running.

GUPTA: You just kept going.

DURBAL: Yes. GUPTA: It is so much harder, obviously, with prosthetic legs just in terms of the energy expenditure, the mechanics of the running. Is this something that you had to train for differently in some ways, then?

DURBAL: Oh, yes. Yes. Everything -- all my training is totally different than what a normal person that would be running and training as far as their program. Since I don't have some ligaments in my knees, I don't have the muscles to -- secondary muscles to go to for recovery and for training, I had to alter a lot of my training plans so I'd be able to compensate.

GUPTA: And so it's remarkable. And you're going to do this again tomorrow. And you've met the Six Pack here, as we call them. You may be the perfect person to ask this. Do you have any specific advice for them?

DURBAL: You know, I always stick to this really easy saying, is that the sweat is nothing compared to the tears, you know? And I mean, it's -- everybody comes from a challenge and they have a challenge, and the Six Pack is no different than me when I first started. So you know, you think back at where you were, you know, when you first started the journey to where you are now, and the sweat is nothing compared to those tears.

GUPTA: I love that.


GUPTA: I love that.

DURBAL: That's why -- you know, that's why I do what I do. And that's why I think they're going to be rocking it out tomorrow, too.

GUPTA: They're going to rock it out. Thank you very much. Stick around here with me. The sweat is nothing compared to the tears.

Tomorrow morning, the triathlon that we've all been waiting for gets under way. Kas, Nina, Stasia, Kendrick, Scott, Joaquin -- they're all ready to go. Good luck, guys. Seriously. I'm really, really rooting for you.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not going to be able to race tomorrow. Wanted to do this, but I'm headed to Somalia to report on the devastating famine that's sweeping that country. And frankly, until now, it's really been underreported.

And you can keep up with that trip by following me on my life stream at

I'm rooting for you guys and time now to send it back up to CNN Center for more CNN Saturday.

Deb Feyerick is in for T.J. Holmes this morning.

Hey, Deb.