By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Jerry Turcotte weighed 232 pounds three years ago, far from an ideal weight for a guy who stands 5-feet-4.
Basketball, Leonardo da Vinci and a commitment to community fitness helped him to shed 70 pounds since.
Turcotte, 41, subject of today’s “What are you eating?” feature in WNY Refresh, was obese for three decades when he broke his ankle in 2011.
"I realized how difficult it was to get around on crutches with all the weight that I had, and I swore that it wasn’t going to happen again,” he told me. "That, and realizing that my youngest runs everywhere; he doesn’t walk. I needed to be able to keep up."
He and his wife, Diana Proske, have two sons, Max, 7, and Simon, 3½, who’ve inspired Turcotte to become a stay-at-home dad, author and child fitness instructor. The couple met at the University at Buffalo Law School in 2001.
"It was the very best thing that came from going to law school," he said.
We hear a lot about folks moving away from Buffalo, but this pair settled here, in a neighborhood near Delaware Park.
Proske grew up in Kent, Ohio; Turcotte in central Maine.
Turcotte got his bachelor’s degrees in history and French at the University of Maine, and became involved in the Maine People’s Alliance, a state advocacy group similar to NYPIRG. "I took an early interest in health policy," he said, “and that that interest led me to want to go to law school, so that led me to law school in Buffalo."
It was an interest born out of a goal to shape both public and personal perceptions.
"I always saw myself as a fat ass,” he said. “I was always picked last and I played a lot of sports. I was too heavy, and I couldn’t have fun doing it.”
Life freshly off crutches began to shape a change.
“I started to ride my bike more and to stretch – the most important thing I’ve ever done, because stretching helps me to avoid injury,” he said. In the months that followed, he also joined a basketball league, one he continues to enjoy. He met a personal trainer in the neighborhood and the two men started working out together, mostly using resistance training.
As the pounds melted away, Turcotte decided it was time to create a website, vitruvianrenaissance.com, and write an online book: "Journey to Fitness: Solving my Inner Vitruvian, and you can, too."
A da Vinci exhibit came to the Buffalo Museum of Science about the time he was writing the book. He spent those months biking or pulling his kids by wagon to the museum "over and over again," and the sight of da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, drawn standing inside a circle, became an ideal.
"To me, it symbolizes the balance of the human body,” Turcotte said. “We are a perfect form if we can get there. It opened my eyes to what my own possibilities were…
“The book is meant to help adults to understand, and give them tools to understand, that they have the strength inside of them to make the right choices to live a fair lifestyle. Sure, it takes diet and it takes exercise, but for somebody who’s been overweight for a long time, it takes time in their head to see themselves differently. I thought I could help.
“Now I have lots of fun. I play basketball every Friday and Sunday, I play in a men’s wood bat league in the summer.”
He also became certified by the International Fitness Association to do group aerobics training for adults and kids.
Today, he weighs about 160 pounds.
Last August, taught adult-toddler fitness at the Crane Branch Library on Elmwood Avenue.
"Having the extra motivating factor of a parent doing the same thing encourages children to do the action, as well,” he said. “Plus, it’s a sneaky way of encouraging parents to exercise, I’ve got to admit."
He’s also taught at North Park Community Preschool and the George E. Blackman School of Excellence.
With help from his sons, he recently published his second digital book, a book for kids, titled "Exercise Like The Animals A to Z," which ties together animal movements and the alphabet. It’s available for $5 on amazon.com.
"Every letter of the alphabet has its own animal, with some surprises,” Turcotte said. “They all move in different ways.
"As a writer, I wanted to do a rhyming piece that would teach kids about the animals – where they live and a little bit about their habitats – and the rhymes are meant to be instructive but also to encourage their movements.”
He and his son Max and a family friend came up with 26 animals. A former art teacher put together the book cover.
"The bear to me is an important animal for people who are overweight to identify with a little bit,” Turcotte said. “It carries so much extra weight, but they are immensely strong. Accepting that I had that kind of strength, the results became almost overwhelming at times, in terms of just how responsive my body would get."
The animal images are silhouettes of son Max, who posed for each of the shots.
"Obviously, you have to use a little bit of imagination," Turcotte said.
The angler fish starts off the book: "The movement is a squat where you wiggle your behind as if you have a tailfin, and you move your arms out in front of you as if you have pectoral fins. It read, ‘They have a special trick, they can make their own light. So you stand up and reach your hands to the left and to the right.’
“When I teach fitness classes, I try to do them in order because I’m also trying to teach kids the alphabet,” he said. "It doesn’t seem like work when you look out and see 10 kids doing squats and they have these great big smiles and are having a ton of fun."