There’s the Norman Langwell of two years ago; a 379-pound couch potato who was mad at the world. And then there’s the Norman Langwell of today. He weighs 182 pounds less, runs marathons, and is happy with himself and those around him. It is that Norman Langwell who Gov. Rick Perry recognized as the 2008 Texas Round-Up Fit Texan in April.
“There’s no way I could have dreamed of being named Fit Texan two or three years ago,” Langwell said. “But I’m taking it as an opportunity to get out there and tell people that they can do what I’ve done. I want to take it as a chance to make a positive impact on other people.”
Langwell, 36, wasn’t always heavy. He ran track as a kid and played football at C.E. King High School in Houston. When he married a year after graduating, he weighed about 180 pounds.
“It wasn’t until after I got out of high school and got married that I really started gaining a lot of weight,” he said. “I came out of high school in shape.”
Langwell, who worked as a pipefitter before joining TDCJ eight years ago, attributes his weight gain to a lack of exercise and to the stress associated with the responsibilities that come with marriage and parenthood. He and his wife’s three children are now teenagers.
“Stress, I think, does a lot to a person’s weight,” he said. “And I went from exercising every day playing football to going to work every day and not fitting that exercise into my life.”
Langwell said he gained most of his weight during the first eight years of his marriage. At his family’s urging, he tried taking diet pills and following the latest diet plans, but nothing worked.
“My dad had been telling me that he was worried about me,” Langwell said. “As heavy as I was getting, he felt like I wasn’t going to be around a whole lot longer. But the thing I realized was that every time I did those diets, I was doing them for someone else. So it became important to me that the only person I was dieting for was me.”
Langwell remembers precisely when he came to that realization: the morning of March 16, 2006. He had gotten up early for work as usual, showered, and was preparing to put on his size 58 uniform pants when he looked in his bedroom mirror.
“I know this sounds crazy, but for a minute or two, I did not know who I was looking at,” Langwell said. “I just didn’t know the person looking back at me in the mirror. That’s the minute I decided that I had had enough.”
Langwell quietly began to eat better and exercise. He started out by walking around a running track on the evenings he took his kids to participate in amateur track and field events. He then joined a gym, where a trainer suggested he alternate between walking and running on the treadmill.
“The more I alternated, I realized that I really liked the running, so I just stopped the walking altogether,” he said.
Once accustomed to taking in 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, Langwell now limits his calorie intake by keeping track of everything he consumes.
“It’s not troublesome counting calories,” he said. “What’s troublesome is being 379 pounds and not feeling like you fit in when you walk into a room with a group of people. That’s troublesome.”
Langwell said his excess weight never affected his job performance. He always did his duty, if not always as briskly as he does today.
“Even though I was heavy, I’ve always believed in giving my employer 100 percent,” he said. “Things got done, but I can do things in a more timely manner now. I believe I’m more effective as a correctional officer now. I don’t get tired at all, whereas before, I couldn’t wait for the two o’clock quitting time because I knew it was the time I could go home and take a nap. Now I look forward to two o’clock because it’s time to go running.”
Langwell runs every day except for the day before a race. He’s a member of a Huntsville running club and has already completed five marathons. His goal now is to lose another 20 pounds so he might shave time off his best finish and qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon in his age group. He had already bettered his time from one race to another earlier this year by 26 minutes.
Langwell was selected as Fit Texan for 2008 from among some 300 people who submitted their success stories to Texas Round-Up organizers. During his yearlong reign he may be called upon to visit schools and talk to kids about the benefits of being physically fit. He’s already lobbying the city of Huntsville, where he also works as a volunteer firefighter, to become affiliated with the Texas Round-Up program.
“I think I tend to smile more and I’m more willing to get out of the house and go do things,” he said about his transformation. “Before I was grumpy and mad at the world. I’m not mad at anybody now and tend to see the world differently. As a heavy person, you walk with your head down. Now I tend to see everything in a brighter light because my head is up and I’m looking around.”
As for his former self, Langwell doesn’t expect to see him again. He keeps photographs from the past to remind himself of how he looked before beginning his regime of diet and exercise.
“I keep those pictures to remind me that he could easily come back,” said Langwell, looking at a picture of himself at his heaviest. “I don’t want that person back. I don’t ever want to meet him again.”