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From ATA World Volume 20, Number 1 – Spring 2013
Photography courtesy of Special Olympics Missouri

It was the day after Christmas in 2011 in when William “Bill” Wilkins stepped on a scale, saw the ugly number looking back at him – more than 336 pounds – and knew he needed a change.

It was not just for his daughters Clare and Paige, ages 11 and 9, but also for his ability to help his community, a value he wanted to teach to his daughters. His weight had prevented him from doing so – he’d offered his assistance to Over the Edge, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, but was turned down due to equipment size limitations.

“I realized I was not living the example I wanted to set for the kids, so it was time to do so.”

So with ATA’s help – he had been coming to workouts with his daughter – he more than decided to lose the weight. He became determined to lose it.

“There was probably nothing stopping him,” says Morgan Shank, 5th Degree Black Belt and owner (with wife Janice, a 3rd Degree Black belt) of ATA St. Louis/Chesterfield. “His guiding light this whole time has been to be a role model for his daughters – to show his daughters the right healthy lifestyle, not unhealthy weight loss.” The keys to Wilkins tremendous success, Shank says, have been discipline and accountability. “He’s consistent about getting his workout done and eating correctly. And he is forced to show his commitment level. He shows accountability to us, to his fellow students, and to his daughters.”

Plus, there’s the fact that group Taekwondo is a very enjoyable way to work out. “The combination of discipline and exercise from learning the forms and techniques is fun,” Wilkins says.

Even though he was the oldest in class, he never felt out of place, and the electric mix of peers, instructors, and kids welcomed and supported him at every turn. The only obstacle has been the previous damage to his body from prior experiences (knees and hamstrings, for instance). “But getting into shape has helped a lot of those things,” Wilkins says.

Even to the point where he can compete with the younger kids at tournaments. After there weren’t enough people in his age range in a local tournament, he was permitted to drop down to the 20-year-old group, despite being 50 years old. After a couple teases from the younger kids, Wilkins broke out with a first in Weapons, second in Forms, and third in Sparring. Later, a few of the young men praised him, saying, “We hope we are as active as you when we get to be that old.”

When he’s not actively beating 20-somethings in competition, he likes to spend time working on his next belt – he just earned Brown Belt – and rappelling off buildings 150 feet in the air for the Special Olympics. He was able to do so last fall after months spent working out with ATA Taekwondo and closely watching his calorie intake.

Since that post-Christmas scale encounter in 2011, Wilkins has lost more than 95 pounds. He’s also earned the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, the Presidential Physical Fitness Bronze Award, and the Presidential Silver Award. He’s encouraged another adult at the school to lose 40 pounds. And, for the first time in 10 years, he bought a sports coat off the rack.

But the biggest reward is being an inspirational figure to his daughters.

“They are why I do this. To show them they can accomplish what they set their minds to.” ATA

Wilkins rappelling for the Special Olympics, 10 months after being initially rejected because of his weight. He raised more than $3,300, placing third in individual fundraising and pushing the ATA St. Louis Team (who participated with him) into the top five in the state.