Watching Dale Coil, 58, chase his 3-year-old granddaughter around the park, you’d never guess how hard he had to work to get there.

This past summer marked the first time in 35 years he could push his lawn mower around the yard. He also hiked the Great Smoky Mountains with family.

This month will be the first time in five years he can actually go hunting.

The Rodney, Michigan, resident’s long-running battle with chronic pain had kept him from living a life fulfilled. Incessant pain and excess weight made it nearly impossible for him to get around.

He remembers stepping onto a friend’s weight scale in 2015 and reading the numbers with dread: 556 pounds.

“It scared me,” he recalled.

He had to do something.

Coil underwent two surgeries and endured years of debilitating discomfort before physical therapy finally led him to sought-after freedom.

But it didn’t come overnight. His journey required hard-earned gains and steadfast commitment.

“Therapy is about what you put into it, and Dale put in 110 percent” said Katie Booth, supervisor of outpatient rehabilitation at Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals.

The journey

At one point, Coil had been taking up to six pills a day to cut down on pain he had come to accept as a constant.

“If I woke up and didn’t hurt, I wouldn’t move because I knew I would hurt as soon as I did,” he said.

Every morning, the battle raged.

Coil knew he needed to make some serious changes. He first cut down on soda and sweets, which helped him lose 100 pounds. He found himself headed in the right direction.

His progress stopped abruptly, however, when his hip went out. The pain began anew.

He then underwent bariatric surgery in September 2016 and eventually lost another 230 pounds.

Today he stands at 225 pounds—less than half his weight at the start of the journey.

While Coil’s weight loss is an accomplishment in itself, significant change also came after his hip replacement surgery.

In October 2017, he began physical therapy with Beth Scsavnicki, PTA, and Srikanth Nallan Chakravarthi, PT, at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation.

Coil arrived there with a walker, scarcely able to hobble into the building.

His initial goals were simple: get healthier, be more independent, get rid of the walker.

He wanted to see his young granddaughter grow up. It kept him motivated to push himself, to see what he could accomplish.

He attended therapy three times a week. After that first week he saw positive change. Three weeks in, he took his final pain pill.

Therapy had been optional, but Coil returned day after day. His enthusiasm never wavered.

“I loved coming to therapy,” he said. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

The outcome far exceeded expectations.

He remembers waking up Nov. 3, 2017, and noticing something unusual.

No pain.

“I thought something must be either right or wrong,” he said. “I laid there for a half hour, scared if I moved the pain would start. But there was no pain.”

On the move

Coil’s formal therapy visits ended in December 2017, but he still drops by the therapy offices to say hello to those who have been so important in his journey.

And he still uses the exercises he learned in treatment.

“If it was not for all of you, I would not be able to travel and do the things I can do now,” he told his therapists on a recent visit.

Coil is now 331 pounds lighter and pain-free. He stays on the move, walking at least three times a week.

The permanence of his change hasn’t been lost on Booth.

“It sounds like you have really made this a lifestyle,” Booth said, commending him for his dedication. “I can speak for all of us when I say patients like you are why we do what we do.”

Coil’s hike in August through the Great Smoky Mountains had him taking in waterfalls in Tennessee. He lost weight on that trip without any special dieting and he got to enjoy sights he would have otherwise missed out on, if not for his remarkable health journey.

In the physical therapy offices at Big Rapids Hospital, there’s an inspirational poster that could have been custom-made for Coil. It’s a picture of a tree flourishing on a rocky mountaintop, emblazoned with this message: “Determination—The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

It couldn’t ring more true for the man who has overcome mountains.

“I never thought I would be pain-free and run again,” Coil said.