Member Spotlight: Ben Gilliam

Have you ever woken up one day and asked yourself “Am I living my best life? Am I Living it to my fullest potential?” That is what happened to me and I decided to start by joining the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. When I walked through those doors for the first time 6 years ago I first met Mari Pat McLoughlin and Tamika Lewis and through their positive attitudes and genuine enthusiasm, I joined on the spot as I sensed this place was very special.

20 years earlier I had owned a thriving sports nutrition company and prior to that a well-known bodybuilding gym. During those years I was in amazing shape but as my 40’s and 50’s went on and business demands grew greater I let my workouts slip. I became President of a global commercial real estate firm and earned an MBA with honors but my life was becoming very unbalanced. I really thought once I left the bodybuilding world all those years earlier that my fitness and lifting career was over and size 32 waist trousers slowly became size 42 waist trousers.

When I met Mari Pat, she suggested I do a complete fitness assessment and then work with a trainer. This was great advice because I was able to establish a benchmark albeit a sad one because as the numbers came in from body fat and oxygen tests, I realized that as successful as I was in business I was a shell of my old self where fitness and wellness were concerned. But it gave me a place to start!

Then I met, Adam Osborne, my first trainer, Chad Singleton, my second trainer and Adam Ortiz, my third trainer and they recognized the potential in me that I could not see. I was always naturally strong but Chad told me I should really consider taking up Powerlifting. While I always loved to lift heavy, he taught me that Core Strength training and using a Dynamic warm-up were the ways to lay a strong foundation to lift even heavier. The training was tough: imagine seeing a 267-pound guy trying to balance himself for lunges or work with a balance ball. But the enthusiasm, kindness, and support of these trainers and the staff at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center kept me going even on days when I thought I would never make it back to my old self.

Then, the game-changer came. I met Dr. Holly Wyatt who then worked with me personally for 12 weeks. I remember telling her that one of my biggest goals was to be able to open a little side table in a commercial airline seat and not have it touch my gut. She was gracefully relentless in teaching me that fitness and wellness are not something you drag yourself in the gym to do 5 times a week for a couple of hours, but a mindset and a lifestyle. She also taught me the importance of encouraging others and using any talent I had for a greater good than just my own body. Pretty soon I was not only taking that side airline table out with no gut problems but I was also springing out of the seat rather than stabilizing standing with the seat back.

Next thing I knew I lost a total of 45 pounds and gained 10 more pounds of muscle through the State of Slim program and Chad convinced me to do my first Powerlifting competition in 2016. I began to lift with a small team Chad had formed and we called ourselves the “Anschutz Avengers”. We were from all walks of life and all age groups but we had one thing in common: we loved to lift weights. I’ll never forget it – going on stage with hundreds of people and three tough judges analyzing your lifts. Most of my Anschutz Avengers teammates were there competing, too. I got up on stage and did my thing: squats, bench press and deadlift and next thing I knew I had won a gold medal! Then another and another. Pretty soon I had broken four state records. I moved on to an International competition in London and won more gold medals but even more importantly, an international family of friends from all walks of life. The most meaningful gold medal I earned there was presented to me by Hanne Bingle MBE, 6-time world powerlifting champion and knighted by the Queen for her work promoting women’s rights. It was an honor to receive that medal from one of the BBC’s Top 100 Most Influential Women in the UK, and a tireless advocate for the rights of women and marginalized people. She and her husband Ian, another international powerlifting champion, have become dear friends.

And last year I won the “Team Spirit “award in London for promoting Powerlifting across the world, particularly to women and the LGBTQ community. I began to love working with people who were the opposite of me – I was always burly and athletic – many of them never saw themselves as athletes, much less winners of medals for powerlifting. I decided to focus on encouraging the most marginalized members of our society to become competitive powerlifters. My greatest accomplishment was being part of a small contingent including my friend Chris Morgan, a 10 time International Powerlifting Champion from the UK, and Dr. Ardel Thomas, a remarkable athlete, and parent who headed up the first LGBTQ Studies program in the U.S. at City College of San Francisco. We were able to accomplish two things last August on a hot summer day in Paris in a meeting with the Gay Games leadership. We were able to get Powerlifting as a sport into the Gay Games which will be held in Hong Kong in 2022. We were also able to get them to accept a class we had created for transgendered or non-sex identifying individuals called the MX class where an athlete does not have to declare as Male or Female. They will compete on their own terms with pride and dignity. As Dr. Thomas said, “Sport needs to see athletes as athletes and not as gendered athletes”. I couldn’t agree more.

So now I’m getting ready for my 8th and 9th powerlifting competition this spring and summer and I am also preparing for a 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise funds for HIV and AIDS research. My lifts are strong, my heart is in great shape, I eat wonderfully delicious healthy food, I have incredible personal and business relationships and I am indeed living my fullest life.

Dr. Holly Wyatt asked me one time, “Why Settle?”. That hit me like a ton of bricks and then I adopted it as my life mantra. Most importantly, I learned the importance of devoting not just to a fitness and wellness lifestyle but using what I know, learn and achieve to help others, especially some of the most disparaged members of our society. It’s not about my medals, it’s about what they can do for someone else.

There is no way I did this alone. The Anschutz Health and Wellness Center is a magical factory of incredible talent and I want to thank all the staffers and members there who supported me and still enthusiastically do as I expand my own horizons in promoting fitness and wellness and community service across the globe. Those individuals who helped make me who I am are Dr. Holly Wyatt and Chad Singleton, Tamika Lewis, Mari Pat McLoughlin, Lauren Heap, Adam Ortiz, Phil, Dr. Jim Hill, Debbie Schlissler, Amanda Wright, Matt Wadepuhl, Mia Clark, Shane Thomas, Calin Eli Thiel, Coach Jason Schatzenpahl, Maria Portelli, Caitlin Winkler, Mandi Ruud Singleton, Marvin Williams, Phil Davis, Chris Donabella, Kevin McCarthy, and several fellow Anschutz Health and Wellness Center members who have become great supporters, spotters and friends.

Am I now living life to the fullest and reaching my greatest potential? Yes and that is the amazing gift that the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center gave me.