Stephen Houghton has completely turned his life around. Six years ago he was very unwell. He weighed 151kg, had heart and cholesterol problems, sleep apnea and was pre-diabetic. But fast forward to now and Houghton is 67kg's lighter and is targeting his second Triathlon World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico later this year. He will compete at Tri Kinloch next weekend to try and qualify.
"Six years ago all the doctors had been pleading with me to lose weight and sort my life out. I had a high-pressure job in a large petrol-chemical company so stress was affecting my health as an obese person at work too. I started making some really strange choices in my personal life, as I was convinced I wasn't going to be around much longer and I did not want to leave my family with financial burdens".
"One day it all dawned on me that these morbid thoughts were all wrong. I had everything I ever wanted - a great job at a very supportive company, a wonderful caring wife and awesome kids, so I realised I needed to make some drastic changes if I was to be around for them".
Houghton, who lives in Taranaki, met a man who had been and had a gastric bypass. He decided to look into it and went and met the medical team in Hamilton.
"They make you realise what sort of person you are, what makes you tick, what your problems and addictions are and what you're doing wrong. Most importantly they give the knowledge and support needed to overcome these problems. Once I learnt all that I realised that I did need a bit of help so I decided to go ahead with the bypass. I actually lost 26kg before I had the operation just through changing my diet and walking. I had to lose fat around my organs before they could operate on me because I was that big and it reduced risk during the operation".
"18 months after the operation my stomach size was back to normal and I had to work hard to keep the weight off. I'm just like everyone else now to a degree where I just have to watch some things I eat because some things my stomach can't handle. During this period I learnt all about nutrition and this changed the way I looked and ate food. I also joined a gym called Face to Face and they taught me so much about healthy living and exercise and turned me into a fit and confident person".
He decided it was time now to get real fit. Houghton did a couple of half marathons and was pleasantly surprised at how well he went. He then got addicted to watching the ITU series on TV.
"I just love watching triathlon and the sort of person I am I thought that's a hell of a challenge to do three complete different disciplines and do them well. That was about three years ago and I thought right I'm going to give this a crack. I looked into a club and thought they had some cool events that I could start off on".
"So I literally just hopped in a pool one day and thought right lets do this and I started to swim. I always remember I swam one length of a 25m pool and stopped, then I swam back again and after swimming 50m thought how the hell am I going to do this, but I just kept going and got pretty determined".
Houghton taught himself how to swim and had a go at a local Triathlon in Taranaki. He got through his first one pretty well and then targeted Tri Tinman as his first full distance in Mount Maunganui.
"I got myself a coach, Jeff McGrath, this was the smartest thing I did. I trained with Jeff, the JME crew and Tracey Wales for swimming and they really got me into shape to tackle last season. I went to Wanaka and qualified for the Worlds there and went to Kinloch and qualified there too and next minute I'm in Chicago".
He represented New Zealand at the Age Group World Champs in Chicago last year and was blown away by the experience. Houghton says he never realised it was such a cool sport full of incredible, talented people.
"The whole New Zealand team and the atmosphere of the event amazed me and I've made so many new friends. I felt so privileged to be there, wearing the Silver Fern and sharing the experience with my wife Carla who was there supporting me. The experience made me even more motivated to qualify for the World Champs in Mexico this year".
Houghton can now happily say that he's addicted to triathlons. Life has never been better for him. He quit his job so he could focus more on family time and the sport he loves. The last six years has really made him see what is important in life.
"The reason behind why I left my job came down to two things. One so I could concentrate on being around to enjoy my two children Libby (15) and Rylee (10) grow up. Libby is a New Zealand rep volleyball player and Rylee is mad on motorbikes. Secondly, I wanted to make sure I was at the start line in Chicago last year. It was the dream from day one. So I chucked it all in, got a job that gives me the lifestyle and work-life balance that I want. I can do what I love, spend time with family and do triathlons".
Houghton has done his fair share of Sovereign Tri Series events, having taken part in all of them except Christchurch last year. He's done Tinman and Wellington this summer and was all signed up to do Wanaka but got the flu. He has Tri Kinloch and Gisborne still to come.
His next big race is Tri Kinloch in Taupo on Valentines Day (Sunday February 14). Houghton's already qualified for the Standard Distance at the World Champs but wants to make the Sprint Distance as well.
"Kinloch for me is something that right now I really start going hard for. It's the closest event to where I live so it's an important one and I can't wait".