Jerry Pack has had a couple of heart attacks and heart surgeries, a couple of strokes, back surgery, and he used to take upwards of 20 pills a day for his various health issues, including diabetes. Weighing in at 270 pounds and over 65, he was told by his doctor he could either lose 100 pounds or be dead within two years.
This past weekend, he made an Easter pilgrimage from Willard to Chimayo—a journey of 124 miles—on a bicycle, over the course of three days. After that he went to work, on the same day he finished the third leg of the journey. In fact, Jerry says he is full of energy and doesn’t get tired. He lost his 100 pounds, and at 68, looks fit and trim, and not at all like the guy on his driver’s license.
Jerry was accompanied on the bike trip by Felipe Luna of Mountainair, age 65, Norm “Speedy” Gonzales of Punta de Agua at age 55 and Jessi Jo Gonzales, also from Punta, age 22. The first day they went 52 miles, the second 51 miles, and 21 miles on the third day of the trip. They were escorted with plenty of ground support from Jerry Pack III, Zachary Torrez, both Jerry’s grandsons, along with Frances Gonzales, Leonor Luna and Jadrian Gomez.
Speedy’s mission was for the riders to get as many signatures as possible from those seeking a blessing as the shirts were worn by the riders to the Santuario de Chimayo, a place many New Mexican faithful believe is a healing and holy place. Jerry said his shirt, left out at the Willard Cantina, which he owns with his wife Elma, was totally covered in names.
Jerry had agreed to join Speedy in the pilgrimage, but that wasn’t when he started biking. He had a gastric bypass, the kind like a sleeve over your whole stomach. During medical counseling before the surgery, he was told to lose weight, and given a meal plan. He started to follow the plan, which he says has been pretty easy for him, and to walk. He lost about 40 pounds pre-surgery. Then afterward, the weight fell off rapidly, he said.
So one day he was eyeballing his grandson’s bicycle, and decided to take it for a spin. He got hooked, and the second time he went out, he decided to just keep going until he got tired—and rode all the way from Willard to Moriarty, 30 miles. Sometimes he gets off and pushes the bike for awhile, then gets back on.
The group of cyclists who made the pilgrimage now call themselves the Wolf Pack, with Jerry as lead wolf, both as the oldest and because his last name fits.
Jerry said he just changed the way he thinks about diet and exercise. He eats five times a day, is mostly vegetarian, and avoids dairy products. His best advice for those who are struggling was to get off the couch and quit watching television. As a person who spends way too much time sitting in front of a screen, that struck home. I feel the truth of it.
Elma looks like she has dropped 20 or 30 pounds from the last time I saw her, but said she finds a healthy lifestyle more challenging than her husband, especially with things like riding a bike.
One thing I found fascinating was that Jerry said after his bypass surgery, he no longer felt a craving for fatty fried foods, which he had eaten all his life. He said he’ll have a taste of something like fried chicken, but simply doesn’t want to eat stuff like that any more. He eats more than a dozen bananas a day, with many servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Jerry is no longer diabetic and his heart function has greatly improved. He doesn’t take a fist full of medications every day, either.
The camaraderie of the Wolf Pack helps him stay accountable, Jerry said, and he is planning training trips all summer in anticipation of next year’s pilgrimage. That includes rides from Willard to Belen and others. Anyone interested in joining the Wolf Pack on these rides should call Willard Cantina at 505-384-1322.
Not everyone can just jump on a bike and ride 30 miles, and Jerry did all of this under the close supervision of his doctor, to whom he attributes a lot of his success. But Jerry’s story reminds me in a powerful way just how resilient and responsive our bodies are. Even after decades of abuse, through sedentary habits and poor eating choices, we can really make a difference in our own health—and that truly is inspiring to me.