Brian Hanko

The Transformation
of a Life Time


When I was a kid, I used to watch He-Man, The Incredible HULK, WWF Wrestling, and I always admired the figures I would watch.  The look of a cartoon character or Big Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible HULK was something that I aspired to be.  I wanted to be a muscle man, a hero, a tough guy.  

I come from a family of overweight individuals, big people if you will.  I was no different, I wore Husky Jeans at a young age and unfortunately, I knew what that meant. I remember in second grade I had a wrestling tournament and all my teammates had numbers written on their hands to tell the referees the weight class they were in… mine said HWT.  HWT stood for heavyweight if you haven’t figured it out, what I am trying to say is, I have been big all my life.   

I played baseball and football as well.  I was a catcher in baseball, the coach told me that we put the slower (bigger) kids behind the plate to catch. What my coach meant was the fat kid, just for context my dad was my coach.  But I was determined… Determined to be the best player I could be, and I worked hard at it too.  I have always worked hard, that was never an issue with me.

In high school and all the way through college, I played football where I was an offensive lineman.  Being an offensive lineman was great for a kid like me because I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and still be considered an athlete.  When I graduated high school, I weighed 245 lbs. at 6’2” and at the end of my freshman year of college I was well over 300 lbs. After 5 years of college football, I was over 330 lbs. I remember feeling miserable and tired all the time, but I faked a persona of happiness. I would tell people that I loved being this big, I can tell you honestly, I hated myself. 

After college, I got a job and a gym membership and continued to work out but had really no direction. My diet consisted of whatever was quick or cheap and absolutely no consistency. Mostly fast food with my co-workers and coffee shops were really taking off at this time, so my go to at these coffee places was Mocha Frappuccino with extra whip cream and chocolate sauce. My co-workers and I would go together, and it made me feel happy and that was more important than anything because I was already not happy inside

In my mind I had plans after college, to be a football player in the NFL…. That never happened. I started off my post-college in a job I needed to take making a small salary and living with my parents. It was not how I saw this playing out. Where did I go wrong? What do I need to do differently?

I soon went on to move to Florida with my future wife and we met a great group of friends.  We were all in the same position in life, out of college, working a job, newly married or engaged and ready to start life.  This is exciting for most people, but I was still not where I wanted to be. I was working out but had no commitment, no goal.  I loved my group of friends and as a group, we would see each other rather consistently and always over a meal, usually at a restaurant but sometimes at one of our houses or apartments. Food was always the center of friendship and we were all really good friends… if you know what I mean!

I would go through phases at this point in my life. I was always looking to continue my “athletic career” but I could never figure out how to change my lifestyle. I would go to the gym and workout, but the consistency was never there and the choices I made when it came to food were usually large quantities, and what made me feel good, comfort food!!! 

I remember on a Saturday morning my friend Brad and I went to Panera and got a dozen bagels with cream cheese, by noon all 12 of those bagels were gone along with the tubs of cream cheese.  All we did that day was play video games.  I was happy at the moment, but I was completely miserable inside.  

Chicken wings, pizza, pasta, Krispy Kreme donuts by the dozen, I’m not kidding, we would each get a dozen donuts and see how fast we could devour them.   This was consistent in my life, I loved food and “breaking bread” with friends, but I wanted something more out of life. I wanted to be like the muscle men from my childhood and I was on the wrong path.

Life comes at you in so many ways which are all normal, marriage, kids, responsibilities, and my coping mechanism has always been food.  

My best friend Mark and I, love to get together for breakfast and to this day we do this rather consistently.  I remember being unemployed and dealing with the responsibilities of bills and how I was going to pay them, trying to look for and find a job, and trying to be a responsible husband and father. I was digging a mental hole that was so deep I didn’t know how to move, I felt paralyzed!  

One day, Mark and I were going to a local deli to grab breakfast, I was very deep in my mental hole. I had no job, no prospects, and the brakes on my car were so bad that the dust turned to gold on my rims. I didn’t have the money to fix them and quite frankly I don’t think I really cared.

That morning, on my way to have breakfast, I stopped at McDonald’s and bought two Sausage McMuffin’s with Egg, a hash brown, and a “DIET” Coke???  I ate all the McDonald’s on the way to the deli where I ordered a three-egg omelet with sausage, ham and cheddar cheese, fried potatoes, bacon, and rye toast with apple butter.  I finished every bite.  Knowledge is the part that I wish I was making up… After those two meals, between 7:30 am and 10:00 am, I was driving home and stopped at Burger King to get two double cheeseburgers and a Double Whopper Value Meal, large fries, and a “DIET Coke” and of course, I ate everything.

I would continue to eat through the day and end up making it to the gym to lift weights, but I always felt horrible. I was always in a tremendous amount of pain and the only thing that would help was Aspirin so I would eat three, 375 mg of Aspirin two to three times per day just to get by.  I had a horrible time sleeping and just functioning in general.  

I lived in this “state of mental paralysis” for years.  In 2017, I had enough, I didn’t see an end to the pain, I wasn’t happy, and I was stuck, deep in this hole I dug myself. I was done, I didn’t care about anything anymore and I started feeling sorry for myself. I pretended, in my mind, that no one cared about me, no one really loved me as a matter of fact if something terrible happened to me, would anyone even know, would anyone care, would anyone even show up to the hospital or to my funeral?  I was deep in the hole I dug, and it was dark!!!

At this time, I began to create chaos in my life, with my job(s) my food choices and my relationships with my wife and kids. I felt I needed to hit rock bottom and the only way I could get there was through my own method, I am very stubborn I was to get everyone to feel sorry for me or disconnect from me completely. 

I had three jobs at the same time for a stretch of six months and I held on to two of them for a little over a year, I was never satisfied with anything, so I used work as a crutch. I stopped going to the gym, I ate nothing, but fast food and I treated everyone in my life awful. My story does go deeper than this, but I was at rock bottom and I made sure I was in charge of getting there.  

I remember telling myself that “I needed to get out of my own way” I had all that I could ask for, a family, a great job a house a car food in our kitchen, but I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t happy because I was miserable inside.  I was never able to look in the mirror and be proud of myself. I would try to ask the people closest to me for advice or just to tell them how bad I was struggling but no matter what they would say to me, I took everything so negatively and then, become upset because it didn’t matter what they would say to me, I didn’t hear what I wanted them to say.

21 Days Makes A Habit

It was early April 2018 and my wife, and I went to Chicago with a group of friends. These friends were lifelong high school friends, and it was great to be there and see them. Chicago is a big city and we walked everywhere that weekend. I remember being in a tremendous amount of pain, my ankles were swollen, my knees and hips hurt, and I was a sweaty mess. But I kept going because I could not show any weakness.  I could not be vulnerable. 

I was having a conversation on this trip about a “Fad Diet” Ketosis with my friend Jessica, a nurse practitioner. I told her someone mentioned that when you eliminate sugar from your diet your body eventually uses ketones (fat) as energy and because refined sugar causes inflammation in your body, once you eliminate that piece of your diet your pain will decrease and maybe go away all together. I value Jessica’s opinion greatly and she was not totally sold but gave me enough to understand that I can try it and see what happens. 

On the way home from Chicago in April of 2018 is when I first started to climb out of this gigantic hole I dug. We took the train to and from Chicago and my wife sleeps on long trips, so I had an enormous amount of time to think.     

Somewhere in my sub-conscience the phrase “21 days makes a habit” crept in and I needed a habit (routine) in my life. I needed a reason to wake up, to get moving, to CHANGE my current state.

Remember earlier in this story I told you I have always been a determined individual.  That determination started to flow on that train ride home. My thoughts told me to just set an alarm for 6:30 am and get out of bed, do that for 21 days and see if it works. Then I thought to myself that is not good enough, get out of bed at 6:30 and go to the gym and just walk on the treadmill for a period of time, do this for 21 days until you get better and then form newer better habits.  

By the time we got back to Cleveland I had my alarm set for 4:30 am so, I can be at the gym at 5:00am and I was determined to walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes for 21 days in a row and I had one rule, be better tomorrow than you were today.  For example, if you walked for 45 minutes today and made it 2.50 miles, your goal tomorrow is to go further than 2.501 miles. If you are going to get up, get up with a purpose.  The only way to climb out of this hole was to fight like my life depended on it… and it really did.

I turned 21 days into 225 days in a row of waking up at 4:30 am and being on the treadmill at 5:00 am. I turned 45 minutes into 65 minutes, and I turned 2.45 miles into over 5.20 miles in 65 minutes. The gym was closed on Thanksgiving Day, that’s what stopped me from going further.  I told myself once I saw a weight of 250 lbs. I would take a break, give my body time to heal and relax.  

I was in full-blown ketosis and doing cardio all the time, but I stopped training, the only thing I would do is pushups and my body reacted the only way it knew how to react, I got weak.  I weighed 245 lbs. in January of 2019. I felt great, I was lighter than I have ever been, and people noticed, but unfortunately… so did I.  Yeah, I was skinnier, but I wasn’t strong, and I looked… well normal.

Once again, I became comfortable, I slowly started to add unhealthy body weight by eating a heavy fat (Ketosis) diet but adding in sugar, lots of sugar. Donuts, Ice Cream York Peppermint Patties and DIET COKE.  

My breakfast would start at 12 pm due to intermittent fasting and consist of 3 to 4 egg omelets with cheddar cheese cooked in 2 tablespoons of butter 4-6 slices of bacon and coffee with heavy crème and stevia. I would usually eat some sort of red meat, never a measured portion but usually 12 to 16 oz. with mayo but then I would sneak out and grab a Coke Zero and a York Peppermint Patty and eat it in my truck. I was hiding from something or anyone who was watching. I would then finish my day off with some sort of fat-filled Ice cream which only made me want the real thing even more, which usually happened the next day.  Before I knew it, I was 295 lbs. again and back in a ton of pain, physically and mentally.

Dean Caputo’s Powerhouse Gym is BACK!!!

When the doors opened for new memberships at the new Dean Caputo’s Powerhouse Gym, I was literally the first in line. I was so excited to have a gym that I could call home. I was still fighting all my demons, but I felt if I was going to fight, I was going to fight on my home turf and I was determined to climb out of this ever so deep and slippery hole I dug. I was determined to win.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a very stubborn person, I hate being told what to do and quite honestly, I thought I knew more than anyone else, so there was nothing you could tell me that I wouldn’t find a way to disagree with somehow.  

In late June of 2020 my best bud Kevin asked Dean if he could get a diet plan from one of the trainers and Dean, of course said yes. Dean connected Kevin with Big Jerry at Big Jer Transforms U and I wasn’t going to let Kevin get a coach without me getting a coach, so I signed up with Big Jer too.  

I never met Jerry before in person, and I remember when we talked on the phone for the first time and Jerry asked a bunch of questions and I answered with total arrogance, like of course I knew more than he did. Even though I paid for these eight weeks of diet coaching, it was day one and I was already done I wanted nothing to do with it.  I was so off again on again and I would change the food choices, even though I help pick out the foods that Jerry put in my plan.  I was completely defiant.

 I never got an opportunity to apologize to Jerry personally, but I was a terrible client and I want to apologize to Jerry Wagner for that.   You are a true Champion and I admire you.

It was December of 2020 and my friends Eric, Jason, and Kevin and I wanted to challenge each other to a weight loss contest, we would weigh in and after 30 days the winner would choose the restaurant of choice and the others would have to pay for dinner… this is what fat guys do, lose weight in a challenge by any means necessary and then go out and splurge on a dinner of choice.  And that’s what we did!!! 

That December I weighed 288 lbs. when we started the contest, by any means necessary I got down to 260…something and after the contest was over, I went right back up. 

I hired another trainer through Powerhouse Gym, and something clicked this time. I was back on the treadmill creating habits and my sub-conscience said “listen, for 21 days…. Just do what he say’s and see what happens.” The concept of 21 days makes a habit has become so powerful for me that when I am having problems at work or at home, I mentally tell myself to change for 21 days, create new habits and become a better, more coachable husband, father, employee, friend, colleague, leader, and client.  

The 2021 NorthCoast Championships were approaching, and I wanted to be a part of the event just like when I was a kid working the Dean Caputo Powerhouse Classic.  On the day of the show, my role was security on the side entrance closest to the stage.  I was once again mesmerized by the athletes on stage, the dedication and determination it must have taken to get to that level.  Suddenly, that crazy sub-conscience of mine said, “you are doing this show next year!!!” When you are at a show like the NorthCoast, the motivation you get is overwhelming.  You want to be the next Champion, but do you have what it takes?  

As I think back on my journey, especially since 2017. I feel that me telling myself that I was doing the NorthCoast in 2022 was me taking the last leap out of that hole that I dug. I was now clear and able to get out of my own way. I was able to listen and understand the people trying to help me. I was able to focus on myself and all my responsibilities of being a good husband and father, a good friend a better person than I was yesterday.

After the show was over and we were back in the gym I told Dean that I was going to compete in the NorthCoast in 2022.  Dean said “okay” well this is what you need to do. You see that guy over there, His name is Jason Traiggi and I want you to train with him.  He did the show last year and will be doing it again this year he can help you and I think you can help him.  

Dean also told me he was going to talk to IFBB Pro Gary Cheney to see if Gary would work with me, he doesn’t work with anyone so Dean said he would ask Gary for me. And thankfully Gary agreed to coach me.

Gary and I met in person and discussed my goals and that I wanted to do the NorthCoast. There were no promises made except that I was going to have to work my tail off to make it. That I was going to have to prep for five months and still no promises were made.  But I was free of the old me (somewhat) and I was ready to go to the next level.

There were so many things Gary taught me but the one that sticks out is “you are going to hear everyone say a bunch of stuff, I’m your coach, listen to me or this doesn’t work” and so I did.

It took a long time for me to take off my shirt and pose, one of the most important things in bodybuilding is posing and I can’t take off my shirt, I was still embarrassed of who I was. I saw something I did not want to see (failure)!!! 

It was the 21-day philosophy that got me to a point in late February where I went into the posing room and said to myself, you have been doing this at home, you can do this here.  I took off my shirt and started posing and never looked back.  People who struggle with weight will totally understand my struggle with taking off my shirt, it is like a security blanket that hides our vulnerabilities and protects us from whatever judgement we think others are putting on us.  

It was at this point in my prep that I realized I could do this.  I had the full support of Gary and I was on a mission. A mission to overcome who I was in the past and be better for everyone I encountered.

As the show got closer, I wanted to understand the training aspect, how to train muscles not just lift weights. I started to get personal training from Todd Lightner at Dean Caputo’s Powerhouse Gym.  Todd and I were an immediate match made in the gym. Both of us are played college football, about the same structure and the same age and we are both intense lifters. But Todd taught me how to train, not just lift weights. We discussed negatives, time under tension, when to go all out and when to drop the weight and work the muscle, all this time I just soaked it all in like a sponge. I listened and absorbed.

I realized that learning and listening will make you better day after day. Posing, nutrition, training, different types and durations of cardio forces the human body to react and when it reacts you catch fire.

Leading up to the show, watching my body change and listening to my coach. I felt fully prepared as I stepped on stage. I was not nervous or anxious but determined and I knew that I had the love and support of my family behind me as well as my Powerhouse family who always had the kindest words to say, the right encouragement and all the love a family can offer.  

Our Powerhouse Family is “Simply the Best”, and we all grew closer as the show has come and gone. I have new friends, a new best friend, and a mentor that I wouldn’t trade for all the gold in the world.

The 2022 NorthCoast championships are over and congratulations to all the winners, I respect every single one of you and I am so proud of your achievements and that I got the opportunity to share the stage with you.

Everyone keeps asking me what is next for me? Well, I want to keep pursuing bodybuilding, I love the sport, and I always have. But I really wanted to tell my story and I did not know how or where I could tell it. I feel there are people that may be stuck and not know how they got there or how to escape from the hole they are in. I want you to know that I am here for you, to listen, to lend a hand, to help if you will let me.