Desire, Discipline, and Determination

A true story

by Chris Hibbard

Big John's Books ad


Author’s note:   In our hectic world, it seems bad news is rampant. So why not start this year with a positive story from right here in Lethbridge?

First, a little bit of background. Several years ago, after paying some tickets at city hall, I stumbled across a small local business called Big John’s Books. Being an avid reader, I decided to check it out.  Upon entering, it was quite clear that the name was very appropriate, as behind the counter was one of the largest people I had ever seen.

Nine years ago; this Big John fellow began running the store after he acquired it from his aunt. Over the years, I’ve come to know him a bit better – and this is HIS story of hope.

It is my hope that it can be an inspiration for anyone out there, who may be dealing with similar issues.

– Chris Hibbard

* * *


John Joseph Pyska was always a big kid, even at seven years old. In every class photo, he was the tall kid in the back row. “I was already 4’ 9” by the time I was seven,” John said, and he had to wear clothes in school that were made for much older kids. He began slowly accumulating weight by the time he was eleven. He admits to having some troubles with people as a child, dealing with bullying and name-calling, and while he had already begun his love affair with books and with reading, his weight issues would only get worse and worse.

“It all begun spiraling from junior high I guess, and I suppose I kind of started using food as a bit of a crutch to deal with stress,” John said. “If you don’t go out much you put on weight, and if you put on much weight, you don’t want to go out. So it’s really a cycle of sorts – and breaking that cycle is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

And this is where it gets really interesting. By 2010, this owner of Big John’s Books stood 6’ 5” tall, and weighed-in at a worrisome 600 lbs.  Yet since September of 2011, John has incredibly shed over 225 lbs!

“What kick-started it for me,” John recalls, “was one night waking up and my head was hurting, my body was hurting, and I was scared. For a moment there I literally thought I was going to die.” After a visit to the emergency room, doctors told him that my blood pressure was way high, and my blood sugar levels were almost twice the normal.”  They told him that losing weight would definitely help, and so his incredible journey began.

John shed all of this weight on his own. He used no Weight Watchers, no Atkins diet, and no as-seen-on-TV diet pills. He pulled strategies from different diets, using those elements he felt were most applicable to his own situation. “Being a diabetic,” he said, “the Diabetes Diet was very useful to me. This meant limiting the amount of sugar that I eat, never eating outside of the house, and completely cutting out pop and soda.”

He also began eating five times each day, beginning with a full breakfast in the morning, then switching to vegetable and protein snacks throughout the rest of the day. “The small portions all day were important I found,” John said, “to keep my metabolism burning all the time. Even at night, eating a little bit of cheese on tortilla chips, would keep it burning through the night.”

As he completely cut soft drinks and even fruit juices from his diet (calling them both high-sugar sources of mostly empty calories), he began taking vitamins and drinking almost four litres of water every day. “This was really helpful,” he said. “The vitamins help with digestion and mental function and the water releases the fat, then cleanses the toxins from the body that the digested fat leaves behind.”

He came across several other secrets to losing weight – using the mantras ‘Always Be Moving’ and ‘Desire, Discipline, Determination.’  “Most people don’t recognize it,” John said, “but anything that causes your body to require energy leads to the burning of fat. Moving causes this need, and moving can be anything from lifting your arms repeatedly, to standing on your toes, or rocking back and forth in your chair. I just really try to never stop moving, no matter what’s going on.”

As for those three D’s mentioned above, John found that he would work out more if he wasn’t feeling self-conscious around other people. Instead, he purchased some 20 lb. hand weights and a recumbent (or sit-down) exercise bike, and set himself up a routine. “You’ve got to burn 3500 calories to shed one pound of fat,” he said. “And once you’ve cut as many calories as you can out of your diet, the only option left is to exercise.”

If there is one thing that has made this possible, John said, it’s being consistent about every aspect of losing weight. “If you have to eat out somewhere, eat a salad or choose Subway. Don’t eat things that are bad for you. Take your vitamins on time, every day.  Eat your small snacks at the same time, every day.” It’s this consistency that’s both the discipline and the determination. “Even if you’re sick, even if you’re hurting – keep it up. You might have fits and starts, and make some mistakes, but who cares? Just keep going – none of that matters.”

Since losing over 200 lbs., John said, his life has certainly changed for the better. “It’s definitely made my job easier. I don’t breathe as heavy when I’m moving boxes around and lifting objects.” He points out visible, defined muscles in his hands and arms that were hidden by fat before, and mentions having better moods and experiencing quicker thinking.  To a certain extent, it’s also affected his entire outlook on life. “I know now,” he said, “that the only things in life that I can control are my own actions. Everything else is out of my hands.”

One thing John now finds a bit difficult, he said, is getting used to recent compliments and flattery.  “The positive feedback from people is quite encouraging, but it’s actually almost as difficult to change the way you think about your own self and improve your confidence and self-image, than it is to lose the weight.”  Of course, there are still some new customers, John said with a laugh, that notice the sign and enter the store for the very first time. To them, he’s still a really big guy.  At his 6’5” and a current weight of 320 lbs., big John Pyska will likely never have to change the name of his bookstore.

Looking forward, John would like to weigh a comfortable 250 lbs. by the end of his journey. “I’ll never be a light person and I’ll always be tall,” he said. “But losing 127 more pounds doesn’t seem like so much now, considering how far I’ve already come.”  What he really wants is to transform all his excess weight from fat into muscle, thereby making his life, and his job, that much easier. “When it comes to lifting and stretching and bending, losing weight has affected everything.” As for other goals, he’s been hoping to take a vacation soon, for the first time in many years, and he dreams of one day finding a way to spend some time around horses.

He wants to thank his mother and grandmother for being so supportive of him on this self-guided quest, and has no intention of quitting his day job, surrounded by thousands of books while getting to be his own boss.  Just imagine, shedding nearly half your body weight in less than two years – all through Desire, Discipline, and Determination!

So way to go John! Many people are very proud of you, and I wish you all the best in 2013.  As for you readers, just in case you’re interested… Big John’s Books is located at 315 10th St. S.


~ by Chris Hibbard on December 25, 2012.

One Response to “Desire, Discipline, and Determination”

  1. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. 😉 Cheers!

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