Gary and Erica Winston

Gary Winston poses with his wife, Erica, holding a photo of him laying down some heavy guitar licks. (Courtesy photo)

Gary Winston is a well-known figure around Walla Walla. Kids know him as a friend and security guard at Walla Walla High School, and adults know him as the great guitar player who can be seen and heard at many venues around town. At the YMCA, Winston is known as a role model.

Three years ago, he weighed in at 298 pounds. Today, he is at 194 pounds. His goal is to reach 180.

When asked how he got started on his weight-loss journey, he said, “I couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes. I had a bad back that pinched my sciatic nerve. I couldn’t sleep in bed. I had to sleep on the couch because I was in so much pain. I started taking Prednisone for my back, and that’s when I put on weight. My vision started getting bad. I had high blood pressure, and I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic. That was the final straw.”

Winston knew he had to make a change.

“I figured I would get a membership at the Y — that was my first step.”

While touring the facility, he went into the Wellness Center, which features weights, cardio and Life Fitness machines. He saw a sign with a man on it that said, “This Place Saved My Life.” 

He thought to himself, “This place is gonna save my life, too.”

After signing up for a membership, Winston reminded himself, “The 1,000-mile journey starts with the first step.” He decided to become an early-morning person, although, he admits, by nature he’s not really that type of person at all.

“I don’t ever feel like getting up and working out, but I wanted it to become a lifestyle habit. And, I’d see all the same people every day. That’s why they’re in good shape — they’re here.”

He also made some friends who gave him some great advice.

“What I like about the Y is, when I first came, I felt out of place; everyone was in great shape. But a gentleman told me, ‘Keep coming — just keep coming.’”

Winston did keep coming to the Y, and he started walking,

“At first I would walk 20 minutes, and my walk turned into a jog or a run. Then I did the stair climber. Then I’d do crunches — anything that helps my abs. Now I use the Life Fitness machines.”

He made some changes to his diet, as well: “Portion control. I didn’t count carbs. I don’t do all that kind of stuff. I just ate less. Some of the things I really liked, I don’t have a taste for them anymore, like ice cream. I used to love fast-food hamburgers. But I started having trouble with my stomach. Certain foods bothered me that didn’t before.”

Winston’s preferences in food changed as his health improved and he started to feel better.

“People thought I was sick when I lost the weight! I said, ‘I was!’” (referring to when he was heavier). “No one asked me if I was sick when I was overweight,” he said.

As his health started to improve, so did other aspects of his life. He became romantically involved with Erica, whom he recently married.

“She was a big inspiration,” he said, smiling. “When I’d get discouraged she’d say, ‘Rome was not built in a day.’”

Winston’s energy also increased.

“There are 53 acres at Wa-Hi to cover (while working as a security guard). We are the eyes and ears of campus. If you add the gym, parking lots and buildings — that’s a lot of ground to cover.” And now, he said, “Energy-wise, I have a lot more energy at Wa-Hi and when I perform onstage.”

The students have noticed his weight loss, he said.

“They say, ‘Man, Mr. Winston, you’re looking really good!’”

When asked what advice he would give others who might want to start living a healthy lifestyle, he said, “I didn’t lose it (the weight) really fast. I would tell them to just keep coming and to cut down on their portions.”

Then he flashed his 1,000-watt smile and started happily strumming his guitar.

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