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Yuba City attorney reaches the weight summit
When he achieved a lifelong goal and stood at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro this summer, David McCaslin said he thought about another mountain he'd already climbed, one steeper but harder to see.
After dropping more than 300 pounds in the last two years, McCaslin, 48, said he has learned people are capable of extraordinary things, but have to allow themselves to do them.
"My biggest failure was my weight, and now it's turned into my biggest success," said McCaslin, a personal injury and workers' compensation attorney in Yuba City. "I've climbed this metaphorical mountain of anxieties and concerns."
McCaslin's new outlook, and new shape, began in October 2010, when his lifelong weight issues combined with chronic back pain had him in despair.
Though he wouldn't say how much he weighed at the time — he appears to be between 200 and 300 pounds now — he was also in emotional upheaval because his father, his partner in a law firm, had recently died, and his wife, Lisa, was recovering from cancer.
Determined to lose weight she had gained during cancer treatment, Lisa bought a book by popular health advocates Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael F. Roizen, called "YOU: On a Diet." The McCaslins said they'd decided the approach wouldn't be simply trying a diet, but changing their lifestyles.
"This time was just something different," said Lisa, adding one motivation for her husband was his love of travel, which had become increasingly difficult as he had gained weight. "After we started, I don't think there was one time we went, 'ah, maybe this isn't working.'"
In their diet, out went anything with high fructose corn syrup, as well as white flour. In came a lot of protein, especially chicken and fish, and protein shakes for breakfast made with almond milk, David McCaslin said.
And he began a determined exercise routine, though it started with him walking around his neighborhood, he said. At first, he struggled.
"I'd make it from fire hydrant to fire hydrant," he said.
Gradually, he began to lose weight, and a painful lower back he had had for decades began to improve. In turn, he added more exercise, with four-hour workouts at the gym and jogging at home up to three miles.
In January 2011, he told Lisa, who lost 50 pounds as part of the lifestyle change, about his long wish to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
First came other milestones. He completed a 5 kilometer race in San Francisco last year, with 13 other people running with him for encouragement.
Last summer, longtime friend Ken Skyberg, a dentist, took him on a 10-mile hike looping Donner Summit and other Sierra Nevada mountains.
Over the hike, the elevation probably varied by 2,800 feet, Skyberg said. "As tired as he was, it exhilarated him," he said. "I'll tell you what, you see a guy with his history standing on a peak at 5,000 feet up, it puts a big smile on your face."
Those were the high points, though; McCaslin said he had to tap into a lot of motivation for the days when it seemed like he was literally on a never-ending treadmill.
What helped was both his own conviction that continuing to lose weight was his only option, and the numerous people — friends, family and strangers — who encouraged him.
One man approached him at the gym to say McCaslin was doing one of the most difficult things a person can do. Others in his neighborhood would say they took inspiration from seeing him jogging and making progress.
As part of a multi-day vacation around the world, McCaslin and his wife decided this summer was the time to try for Kilimanjaro. Though there is no restriction on who can try to climb the 19,341-foot peak, a porter there looked at McCaslin and told him he wasn't sure he could make it.
"I thought, maybe this is the last challenge," he said, as they prepared to make the final, eight-hour ascent to the summit as part of the eight-day trek to the mountain itself.
Lisa McCaslin said while her husband did well on the ascent, she struggled physically. Focusing on her safety, he said, helped block out his own fatigue.
At the top, McCaslin said he was surprised to find the experience was both like he had pictured it, and different.
"There was elation of having been almost an invalid to being on Kilimanjaro with my wife," he said. "It was really emotional, more than I thought it would be."
But as a friend from Australia told him, the trip up the mountain isn't the end. McCaslin, who said he would like to lose another 30 to 40 pounds, is in the process of finding a new goal.
Whether it's a triathlon, marathon or something else, Lisa McCaslin said, she won't bet against him.
"I learned a long time ago not to underestimate anything he said he would do," she said.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.