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One year later:

Bariatric surgery patient Lance Scimeca lightens up

Lance Scimeca today and (inset) just one year ago

On March 20, 2006, Lance Scimeca, 35, underwent bariatric surgery as a last resort in his lifelong battle with weight, a journey that was chronicled in the Spring 2006 edition of Pulse magazine. At the time, carrying some 430 pounds on a nearly 6-foot-1-inch frame, his goal was to drop to 275 — 20 pounds less than he weighed the day he graduated from high school. At the very least, he wanted to get under 300.  And he gave himself a year to do it.

He knew it wasn’t going to be easy. He knew he would have to resort to a liquid diet at first, and he anticipated a kind of grieving over the loss of his eating habits, which often included “the biggest porterhouse you’ve got with stuffing and a loaf of bread.” He also knew that his strength — honed to where he could benchpress 551 pounds in competition — would diminish with weight loss, and that he would have to fight like crazy to get it back.

He also knew that if he had it to do over again, he would. Only he wouldn’t wait so long. In fact, Scimeca wishes he had signed up for the surgery when he was 30, just because it would have given him five more years without the taxing effects of obesity on his body, his mind, his life.

At this writing, seven months after the surgery, Scimeca is down more than 120 pounds to 309. He hits the gym — hard — six days a week. Ten more pounds will bring him to his base weight, and another 25 will put him at his goal. And he has another five months to get there.

“I hit my weakest point two months ago,” Scimeca says, “when I got down to pressing only 275 pounds. But I’ve been going at it pretty hard, and today I hit 405 pounds on the bench. My face hurt because I was smiling so much. Aside from my size, my strength has been a part of my persona for so many years. At my old weight, I competed in weightlifting, set a record, and won a gold medal. If I compete again at 275, I will be in a different weight class, so one of my goals is to win a gold medal in a new class. At this moment, I’m about 90-percent sure I can do it.”

Scimeca’s biggest concern is not whether he will fully regain his strength but whether he can consume enough protein through his daily mini-meals to support his training regime.

“It was always a large steak that got me through,” he says. “And I was always cleaning off my plate and looking for extras. Now it’s fish, and I never finish my plate; there’s always a take-home bag. I supplement my meals with protein shakes, which give me the protein I need without filling me up too fast.”

He says he neither misses nor can imagine returning to his old way of eating.

“I thought I would miss the food, crave it,” he says. “For the first couple of months, I had a hard time keeping anything in me. Now, I don’t have that problem. I can go into a restaurant, eat what I’m comfortable with, and leave the rest. It’s really very freeing.”

Scimeca is also becoming a little more comfortable with the public response to his increasingly svelte appearance.

“I have turned heads my whole life,” he says. “And I had gotten used to it, even turned it into a tolerance. But it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I would walk into a room, and people would look at my size, seeing a large and formidable man. Once in awhile, I now get looks from females that aren’t the same kind of look. I don’t quite know how to react to it. I’ve never had this before.”

During a recent visit to his surgeon, Dr. Mark Vierra, Scimeca met four candidates for bariatric surgery who were going through some presurgery protocols. All four cited the article about his journey (Pulse Spring 2006) as a catalyst for moving forward in their own process.

“I spent some time talking with these other patients about what I went through, which was so empowering,” says Scimeca. “A driving factor in my own process is wanting to help others through it. For me, it has been a life-altering experience. I will never go back to my old weight. I like who I am becoming; I am starting to get used to seeing a lot less of myself and to revealing more of myself, emotionally. In retrospect, I think maybe I used my size as a shield, so I wouldn’t have to deal with others on a personal level. Now I realize there is a lot in life that I missed because of it, but I’m ready to bring it on.”

Lance Scimeca, a sheriff’s correctional sergeant in the Santa Clara County jails, is currently writing a book about his weight-loss journey.