The day before Halloween, after Ronnie Collins took his morning walk, he was inspired to post a couple of before and after pictures on his Facebook page. One was taken six years ago when he weighed 430 pounds. The other was taken last year, after he’d lost 200 pounds.
“I had the bariatric band surgery in February of 2013. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I do not want to go back there. It takes a lot of work, especially mentally. I want to live. I feel so great. I love life,” he said, in part.
The response was quick – 143 people “liked” his message. His proud son Jody shared his dad’s post and got another 125 “likes,” which isn’t surprising, since lots of people like Ronnie Collins, who has served as president of the Alice Bell Spring Hill Neighborhood Association for almost 25 years and managed to become one of the most involved citizens in Knoxville even though he worked a demanding, full-time job.
Collins, a 1968 Fulton High School graduate (his wife, Sharon, was FHS Class of 1969) was on the road eight to 10 hours a day, hauling freight for Usf Holland Motor Express to Oneida and Mountain City, Athens and Monterey, Crossville and Jamestown and Abingdon, Virginia. He retired in December 2015 after 42 years in the trucking business.
He’s a big guy – 6-4 and broad framed – and can carry a lot of weight. But the pounds kept accumulating until the time came when he knew he had to do something.
“It was a struggle to do anything,” he said. “Trying to get in and out of the truck got so hard. I wasn’t just sitting behind the wheel 10 hours a day; I had to load and unload and had a lot of trouble with my knees and back – just a lot of physical problems. I was struggling to do my job and was just worn out from carrying all that excess weight around. I wasn’t diabetic and my cholesterol counts were OK. I was just too heavy. So, I went to my doctor and he said, ‘You’re pre-diabetic.’
“I’d asked him about the surgery before, and he’d given me paperwork and I’d laid it down. I just kept putting it off.”
Finally, he asked for the paperwork again, contacted University Bariatric Center and decided it was time to get it done. He’s never looked back. He has not only lost weight, but has been able to drastically reduce the amount of medication he’s taking – he’s down to a daily 10 mg blood pressure pill, some vitamins and three baby aspirin per week.
He’s still getting up early – 3:30 a.m., or so – and getting in a long morning walk, usually at New Harvest Park where he meets up with his walking partner Nancy Gray just before 6 a.m. Bad weather drives them to East Towne Mall, which opens its doors to walkers around 7. He memorializes his walks with pictures he posts on Facebook and he still has plenty of time for morning meetings, which he says he enjoys.
He stays busy and involved in all kinds of issues, and his front yard is a prized yard sign location (he’s got four city council candidates’ sign this election cycle). But he worries about the dwindling interest in local races.
“There used to be five or six people running for city mayor, every one of them would call up, wanting to sit down and talk. That’s not the case anymore. I’ve heard from some county candidates, but I tell them ‘I’ve got a city election going on right now. Talk to me next year.’”
Sometimes someone will notice that he’s showing up at meetings and forums and ask if he’s interested in running.
“Since I retired I can go to stuff like Recode Knoxville and the Airbnb meetings. One time, I had a city council member pull me aside and say, ‘If you’re gonna run for office, you might want to invest in a pair of dress pants…’
“I said, ‘You’re right, I don’t own a pair of dress pants,’” said Collins.
He wears jeans.
“Although I did have to break down and splurge on a pair (of dress pants) recently. I just like being informed and want to form my own opinion about stuff.”
It’s not all serious stuff, though. After Halloween he was posting pictures of himself and his daughter Stacey lined up at the Tennessee Theater to see “The Price is Right,” his all-time favorite quiz show.