Raymond Williams of Norwich has an active lifestyle, lots of friends, a new car and an exciting new job that he loves. He is also inspiring others with his determination to change his life.
Williams was named Connecticut TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) King in a ceremony at Ocean Beach in New London in April for losing 116 pounds in a year in the men’s division (by weight) with 52 weeks of “no gain” meetings. Williams was also first runner-up in his division for International TOPS King, which includes the United States, Canada and Guam.
The 23-year-old’s journey began in March 2021 when he decided it was time to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“I just got sick and tired of doing nothing and I just wanted to change for the better,” Williams said during a telephone interview.
He decided to join TOPS Chapter 173 in Voluntown, a nonprofit weight-loss program that his mother, Jennifer Horner, was attending. Now, he had something to push himself “forward every week to go do something.”
All-day video-game playing was replaced with 2-3 mile daily walks with his mother at various places: Fort Shantok Park in Montville, the Crystal Mall in Waterford, Bluff Point State Park in Groton and Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket. He also started playing with his family’s terrier/Labrador-mix dogs Moxie and Relic in the backyard and taking them for walks.
Additionally, he and his mother stuck to a 1,500-calorie diet with one “cheat meal” per week, Horner explained.
They join members of the Voluntown TOPS group weekly to weigh in, after which they participate in a short meeting – sometimes with a motivational speaker. During this time, they can share, if they wish, how their week is going and any challenges they faced, which Williams said is helpful.
Besides whittling his weight down to 189 pounds and enjoying a sleeker wardrobe, this 5-foot, 9-inch individual now has a happier attitude and much more energy.
He still plays video games, but just for a couple of hours each day on the weekends. Additionally, he remains vigilant about what he eats – occasionally eating a bag of popcorn while watching a movie or program.
Williams continues to stay active by walking, “hitting the baseball around,” and helping his friends’ pit crew at the Waterford Speedbowl. And now when he goes to Yankee Stadium games, he doesn’t have to stop to catch his breath and he fits comfortably in his seat.
His stepfather and mother, Cory and Jennifer Horner, said they are both very proud of their son.
“It’s a total 360 and I just enjoy watching him,” Jennifer said during a telephone interview.
“I had plenty of weeks that I was just like, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve gained. It just didn’t work.’ And he’d be right there for me,” encouraging her to continue and “make good choices,” said Horner, who has lost 36.6 pounds and wants to lose another 35.
Joining TOPS is “an inexpensive way to lose weight if you’re accountable,” she said, adding they pay just $6 monthly at the Voluntown chapter.
Williams shared that his weight gain started in high school when he had few friends and played video games during all his free time. Gradually, his weight increased and his energy plummeted.
Then when the pandemic hit in 2020, he felt “miserable” being “stuck inside.”
“I just know that everybody in TOPS is so phenomenally proud of Raymond. He’s done such a good job,” said Chris Wicks, an advocate for eight TOPS Chapters in Eastern Connecticut, which include Waterford, Norwich, Jewett City, Voluntown, Columbia, Coventry and two locations in Danielson. “And it’s so wonderful to see that young man turn his life around, from just hiding in the house (and) being a gamer, to getting a job and having friends now. I’m just very proud of him.”
Wicks explained during a telephone interview that TOPS members can use their own regimen and diet, or use the organization’s diet available to members online called the “28-Day Plan” that offers menus and a grocery list. “Everything is designed to help people be successful.”
Plus, “because they’re nonprofit and they don’t advertise, their monthly fees are very low, but range slightly between chapters,” she said.
Wicks suggested that if one is going to make a lifestyle change, “you might as well pick the foods that you like and you’re going to continue to eat. If you go on a diet and you make yourself eat foods that you don’t like, as soon as that diet is over, you’re going to go back and eat (food you normally eat) and you’re going to put that weight right back on.”
Wicks said TOPS is different from other weight-loss programs “in the amount of support you get.” She added that it’s not just about weighing in (weight is kept secret) and going home.
“We care about each other,” Wicks said.
If someone is having a difficult week, members will send a card or text him or her. “Even after you reach your goal, we don’t just dismiss you. You’re still a very important part of the chapter.”
She said, “You do have to make up your mind,” that you want to lose weight, change your life and be healthier.
Asked if he had any advice for others who want to lose weight, Williams said, “Just have a good mindset. Just keep your head into it.”
“TOPS Club, Inc. is a nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss support organization,” according to its website, tops.org. The site also states, “Meeting runs 30-60 minutes after weigh-in. Chapters may charge monthly dues ($5 on average in U.S. and $8 in Canada).”
Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.
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