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People Laughed When I Told Them I Wanted to Model One Day

Now the people who doubted me ask how I did it.

Mike Zimmerman

Ken Snow Photography

Bobby Wilhelmson was a theater kid in high school. A heavy theater kid. But he was good at it— the theater, not being heavy. Like a lot of kids, he dreamed that maybe he could try acting and modeling someday as a career. Well, it's a long way from high school to age 26, where he is today. And the main thing he learned in all that time? Anything is possible. But let's hear it from him.

People who transform themselves usually have a moment that pulls their trigger. What was yours?
Oh, there was a pinpointed moment around Christmas of 2012. All the time before that I never really realized where I was body-wise. So this family friend comes over and he never had much of a filter. He's a big guy. He sees me and goes, "Hey Bobby, you're looking pretty big, man! Almost looking like me." And he grabs his stomach. It was crazy. It was like my wake up moment.

How did you react?
I wanted to do what most people would do in that situation, just be like, "Screw you." I didn't say it, but I thought about it. But really, I was like, wow, what just happened? It made me self-aware. That was the day I made the change.

You had modeling aspirations but you were a heavy kid. How did you reconcile those two things?
Well, it was just a dream, especially when I was younger. All throughout high school, I loved acting and one time I told people I really wanted to try modeling. They laughed at me. Seriously laughed. Maybe they didn't think I was serious. It made me feel horrible, man. For someone to laugh at your dreams? So I just stopped talking about it. If I kept it to myself, it was still mine. I would take my own pictures, not have anyone take pictures of me. I would gauge how I looked.

So after that holiday wakeup, how did you start?
I was going to school in Colorado, CSU, at the time for acting. I talked to my sister first because she was always involved in fitness and health. And I never realized it at the time but she would kind of do the nice-person way of saying, "Hey Bobby, maybe you should try this." I never really listened to her. So I had to relearn everything.

It started with food. I would eat out all the time. So I made one simple change: Cooking for myself. Really learning how to cook. That way I knew where everything was coming from.

I did all bodyweight stuff to start because I was almost too ashamed to go to the gym. I had that intimidation. So I did a lot of push-ups and sit-ups. A lot of hiking. I was just trying to learn, and it was all trial and error. I failed multiple times in the first couple years.


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What was the problem?
The first six months, especially, from Christmas up until the June, I hadn't fully made the commitment. It's that simple. I would do what I consider doing well for only maybe two days a week. So I dropped ten pounds in that time. I was really discouraged. I was also adjusting to a big school and was considering dropping out. It was so big I felt like I was drowning. It was a tough time.

That fall [2013] I moved to Illinois to a smaller school. I was probably 250 that summer. When I got there, it was a chance to start over. Nobody knew who I was. The only reason I went there was a teacher who would give me a full ride to study theater. So I decided to take that seriously. And that's when I started seeing real results.

You took a new approach?
I lived in the dorms again, and because of that I had no reason to go out to eat. From that August through to the next February, I dropped 80 pounds. That was from eating nothing but school food. People talk about the freshman 15, but I got lucky. All I ate were turkey patties, no bread, and loaded up on salad bar greens. That was my diet. Four turkey patties a day and an omelet in the morning. After a while, the food people had turkey patties set out for me.

I also took advantage of the school gym. That's when I made the biggest jump. I had so much fat to burn off, it went quick. I couldn't believe how quick it was. It was like my body wanted to do it all this time. After seeing results like that, it was so much easier to stay motivated. I did a pull-up for the first time during those months. And then multiple pull-ups. I used to have knee pain, but that went away.

So you're studying theater and losing weight and feeling good. How did the modeling dream fit into all of this?
Through that process, all through school and after I lost all that weight, I still didn't tell anybody about the dream. Now understand that I started out around 260-270 and then one day I'm in the gym working out with a friend, and I was about 150 at that time, the lowest weight I've ever been in my life. And I admit I was kind of posing in the gym mirror a little bit. And my friend said, "You should try modeling. I think you might be cut out for it."

That's a bingo.
Exactly! That was a wakeup call. Someone just validated a dream that could possibly become a reality. That's when I really kicked it up a notch. That motivated me more than ever, somebody else three years later validating what I wanted. At 150, I was a smaller, skinny guy. Now I needed some muscle and I started lifting weights. That led to an actual lifting regimen and changing my diet to include some carbs.

It was still a long process, though. We're still only in 2015 at this point.
None of this was easy. I had plateaus all the time. To get through them, I kept my model goal in mind and tried to take the next step up each time. I would read on the internet, looked at what other people did and how other diets affected them. So I call this my second lifestyle change. And I discovered that I really could eat whatever I wanted as long as I kept it all in balance.

Oh, and by the way, remembering how people laughed at you is a great way to push through a plateau. [laughs]

How did the modeling finally happen?
It was the simplest thing, really. I did a photo session with a photographer and he suggested I send photos to some modeling agencies. So I did. And I've been picked up. I can say I'm now contracted as a model. It's all been great.

And now the million-dollar question: What do you say to the folks who laughed at you along the way?
There were times, especially right after I lost all the weight, I had a cockier mindset. I wanted to throw 'em the finger and say, "Look at me now." I definitely had that impulse. But I was humbled because two years ago I lost my dad suddenly. He was my motivator. He worked out with me when I was still big in high school. And when I lost him, it changed everything. He's still the reason I go to the gym. But his death changed my mindset about why I do everything. He made me realize how important time is. And people.

So now I really invest in people. And even the haters, the people who doubted me. Those are the people who come to me on Facebook and ask me how I did it. So it taught me to stay humble in the high times and hungry in the low times. The people who will doubt you, at some point if you really push through it, they're gonna ask for help. And now where I'm at, I want to help because I think it takes a big person to ask for help. To put pride aside. I don't advance any further by putting those people down. So it's easy to flip the finger. But nothing positive comes out of that.

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