FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Tony Bussey knew for a long time that his mammoth waistline threatened his health.
But it wasn’t until two years ago, when he felt his 567 pounds endangered others during the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., that he finally found the motivation to shrink it.
“That had a huge effect on me,” said Bussey, 43. “It was at that moment I felt, ‘Enough is enough, Tony. You can’t keep going on like this. You’re affecting other people now.’”
Bussey was working his regular shift in the tire shop at Suncor Energy’s oilsands plant in May 2016 when the order came to evacuate the facility in the face of a wildfire that was raging dangerously close. Buses pulled up to take employees to Suncor’s airstrip.
“They took me from the back of the line to the front of the line because of my size,” he recalled.
“They put me at the front of the bus, but they wouldn’t sit anybody next to me. Nobody could fit there. I was spilling over into the next seat,” he said.
“I couldn’t stop thinking, there’s somebody left behind. They’ve got to wait longer in this hell.
“Everybody was wanting to get out there and get back to their families. A person now has to wait — who knows how much longer — because I’m too fat to sit next to.”
The same thing happened on the plane out. Bussey took up two seats.
“I got back to Edmonton that evening and … that’s when I started.”
The five-foot-eight Bussey had been overweight for a long time, but it had finally reached the point where even size 66 pants were tight. He could only weigh himself at the shop on a scale normally used for heavy machinery.
Walking to his car left him breathless and he barely fit inside when he got there.
“There wasn’t one morning where I didn’t wish I was somebody else”.
He was too big to start anywhere but small.
His first walks were five minutes long. Then they were 10 minutes, then 15.
He cut out junk food and soda and switched to a diet low in carbohydrates and high in proteins.
By that September, he’d lost 100 pounds.
Now, he’s lost more than half of his original weight and, at about 240 pounds, wears a size 34. Putting on socks is no longer an ordeal. His walks are measured in kilometres and he rides the bus to work every day like the rest of his colleagues.
“I haven’t felt this good in years,” Bussey said. “I used to dream of this moment.”
Perhaps best of all, the world has opened up. Now that it’s easier for him to get around, he’s been back to his Newfoundland home for the first time since he came west. He’s taken his daughter to Ontario and flies to visit her instead of driving.
He’s applied for his first passport.
“I’ve always loved travelling,” he said. “It’s a dream of mine.”
Bussey knows the fire caused destruction and heartbreak. He knows it destroyed homes and memories and cost billions. But it did do one good thing.
“That fire saved my life. I’ve gained a whole new one.”
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960