Truck driver John Drury teaches dance fitness classes on weekends
After 10 years of truck driving, Drury weighed 400 pounds
After losing nearly 100 pounds, he now wants to inspire others
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John Drury is a 6-foot-7 truck driver with tattoos on his head, neck and arms. Not surprisingly, he’s known as “Big John.”
During the week, Drury spends 50 hours behind the wheel. But on weekends, the 43-year-old is a certified dance fitness instructor who breaks it down to Rihanna and Justin Bieber.
Living by the T.I. song lyrics permanently tattooed on his head – “The old me is dead and gone” – Drury has danced away 97 pounds since February 2011.
“The main purpose of that tattoo is exactly what it says,” he said. “That 400-pound man was the old me and who I am today is the new me.”
“Big John” wasn’t always big.
Drury grew up on the west side of Cincinnati in a poverty-stricken area where sports, music and dancing kept him out of trouble.
“I grew up in the hood,” he said. “I was poor growing up, and that’s what we did – we danced. It was our culture.”
Drury participated in break dancing competitions with his high school friends and often attended community dance functions. Some of his favorite places to visit in the ‘80s were the clubs in downtown Cincinnati.
A year after Drury graduated from high school in November 1989, he was at a club showing off his moves on the dance floor. At that moment, his future wife, Lori, spotted him from across the club.
“I saw him dancing, and that’s what attracted me to him,” said Lori Drury, 42. “I told my friend somewhat jokingly, ‘That’s the guy I’m going to marry.’”
And in January 1994, that’s exactly what happened.
But as they settled down and had two kids, Drury picked up more and more shifts at the trucking company, until he found himself working 70 hours a week. With little time to exercise or sit down and eat a proper meal, his motto became “grab and go.” When he did stop, he ate the fast and greasy food offered at truck stops.
“I was big on sweets and eating doughnuts for breakfast,” he said. “Everything about my eating habits was just out of whack.”
From ‘Big John’ to ’biggest loser’
Prior to becoming a truck driver, Drury weighed 260 pounds. After more than a decade of truck driving, Drury had piled on 140 pounds and his health was deteriorating. Doctors prescribed medications to control his high blood pressure and cholesterol.
But the seriousness of his situation didn’t hit home until a fellow truck driver, who was taking the same medications as Drury, died from complications of diabetes in late 2010. The truck driver weighed 450 pounds – only 50 more pounds than Drury at the time.
A few months after his friend passed away, Drury heard a commercial for a local radio station that was hosting a “biggest loser” competition. He entered the competition and was selected to participate.
For three months, Drury had a gym membership, a personal trainer and a nutritionist. He began drinking a lot of water, preparing his meals and walking around the truck stop area.
“I’m a very competitive person,” Drury said. “I would just do whatever I had to do to get to the top. I decided there weren’t going to be any more excuses.”
With his new attitude, Drury not only finished in second place, he also lost 54 pounds.
“For a person who says ‘no excuses’ now, I used to be the first person to make an excuse,” he said. “I used to say, ‘I’m too busy with my job.’ It’s just so empowering to know that regardless of my situation, I made it happen.”
Paying it forward
Now it was time to make some of his own dreams a reality.
Through the gym membership, Drury discovered Zumba. He realized he could lose weight through his passion for dance.
“When they say, ‘Feel the music,’ I really feel the music. I get lost in it,” he said. “Even though I was the only man in the class, it didn’t stop me.”
Thinking back on his early days of break dancing, Drury thought he could make the idea of weight loss through dancing relevant to the public.
“I just thought I could help people, because I think people can connect with me and my story,” he said.
After entering yet another room full of women, Drury decided to get certified as a dance fitness instructor. In April 2011, he created his own dance fitness company called Big John’s Dance Fitness.
Drury helps people dance off their weight through routines set to the songs of Usher, Rihanna, Flo Rida and other pop and hip-hop music he thinks people can recognize and move to. They sometimes even do the “chicken dance.”
He holds hour-long classes every Saturday and Saturday starting at 9 a.m. for a fee of $5 per class. He’s had as many as 30 attendees.
“I have people who can’t afford it, and I’m never going to turn anyone away,” he said. “I have a longing for helping people and paying it forward. I care about the people, not the dollars.”
But Drury is having some financial challenges of his own. To accommodate his new lifestyle, Drury now works 50 hours a week rather than 70, and it’s sometimes difficult to make ends meet. At the moment, he teaches his classes in his home because he’s trying to find an affordable dance studio.
“Ultimately, my dream is to make a dance fitness DVD, because the obese public can relate to me,” he said. “In these Zumba videos, there’s no big people in those videos. How can the obese people relate to that?”
Open road ahead
Drury’s target weight is 260 pounds. He’s gained a few pounds back since he first lost the weight and now weighs in at about 315 pounds.
“It’s still hard,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I’m perfect. … It’s still a battle for me, and everyone knows that.”
Drury is now inspiring others by leading through example. Not only does he encourage his wife and sons to dance with him, but he and his wife prepare much healthier meals for the entire family.
They have replaced the French fries and fast food with baked chicken and fish. Drury no longer gets greasy meals at the truck stops; instead, he brings his food from home. He allows himself to consume up to 2,000 calories per day.
As a result of his new lifestyle, Drury has come out of his shell, his wife said. Believe it or not, he used to be a shy and reserved man.
“He has so much more drive and just ambition for life,” she said. “It seems like he wants so much more out of life and he’s more confident because he knows he can do it.”
Drury’s mission is to inspire overweight people to “just get out there and move.” And despite the laughs and jokes he hears from fellow truck drivers about his passion for dance, Drury isn’t hitting the brakes anytime soon.
“I can’t think of a male truck driver anywhere out there doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m breaking all the stereotypes. I’m so passionate about dance fitness. This is my calling in life.”
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