Michael DeSimone | Photo by Stefan Radtke
While many of us gained the dreaded “COVID 15” — as in pounds — some turned the pandemic tragedy into a healthy triumph. Here are their stories.
When Michael DeSimone from Ardsley began to work from home due to COVID, he started eyeing the barely used home gym his wife built, which was collecting dust. One day, he woke up and thought: What if I could use my former two-hour commute time to New Jersey to get in shape?
The next week, in mid-March 2020, DeSimone gave his plan a go. For seven days a week, two hours a day, he did a combination of running, boxing, and weight training. Every morning, he ran three and a half miles and then worked on a different body part with weights and exercise. Quickly, he started seeing muscle gain and weight loss while tracking his improvements with his Fitbit and the Wyze Smart Scale app.
“It was amazing to see. I felt so much better, and then I saw the weight, cholesterol, and heart-rate numbers change,” he says. “I also noticed better stamina and that I didn’t get tired at 2 p.m., like I did before.”
DeSimone works as VP, Corporate Counsel, for Prudential Financial in New Jersey. He had a physical in August, and the doctor was happy with his numbers. Between August 2020 and August 2021, he lost 25 pounds, five inches around his waist, and lowered his body fat to less than 7%. His blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol all decreased. “All my levels were excellent. I went from a no-pack to having six-pack abs. The doctor mentioned how he saw patient after patient regress during the pandemic. He was impressed with how well I progressed over the pandemic,” he says.
DeSimone also changed his diet and cut out sugars and a good amount of carbs while taking protein supplements and vitamins. He also noticed his moods shift and a transformation in his relationships. “Getting in shape gave me renewed confidence, and my relationships improved in every facet of my life. My relationships with my wife, family, friends, daughters, and coworkers have all improved significantly. I’ve also been more assertive at work, which I attribute in large part to the confidence I built through transforming my body and overall health,” he says.
At press time, DeSimone had not returned to work at an office but was planning to in 2022 at some point, commuting one or two days a week. He’s hoping he will be able to maintain his same workout schedule, perhaps hitting his gym when he gets home.
In total, from March 2020 through August 2021, DeSimone had lost 35 pounds. He adds, “A lot of hardship came with COVID, but I was happy that I could make use of it positively and transform it into something productive for myself. That extra time to focus on me was so important. I’m looking forward to continuing and building on this routine.”
Samantha Wescott was home-bound through COVID, living with her parents, brother, and sister. One day, the 26-year-old Mahopac resident was rummaging through photos from her previous vacations with friends and family at Disney and a girls’ trip to Florida and noticed her body had gotten heavier. It was then she decided to commit to making a change and losing weight. As her mother, Catherine, says, “COVID had us inside all day, so what else are you going to focus on?”
Wescott has Down syndrome, which slows down her metabolism and causes her to gain weight very easily. When she committed to getting into shape, she cut down on snacking, worked on portion control, and switched from eating chicken nuggets to grilled chicken. Her new habits were working, and she lost five pounds in the first month.
It was then that she decided to work with a trainer so that she could plan a big reveal, just like in her favorite show, The Biggest Loser. She teamed up with trainer Beth Blank Dunn and started working out three times a week.
After about 10 months, her dream came true. She burst through a poster of herself and did 10 push-ups in front of friends and family. She had lost almost 30 pounds, from a starting weight of 160.
Now with more confidence, Wescott is committed to keeping the weight off. She walks around the house and does push-ups on the stairs. “I don’t have this kind of willpower,” says her mother.
Wescott says, “I am a work in progress, and I am proud of how strong I am and how far I have come. I learned so much about myself and what I can achieve.” Wescott looks forward to living well in the years to come. She adds, “To get stronger and live a longer, healthier life is what I hope for.”
Tuckahoe’s Nicolle Domenici weighed about 200 pounds before COVID. She tried to diet and get in shape at gyms but had little success. When pandemic shutdowns put her on hiatus from her job at Sephora in Union Square, she finally had the time to focus on transforming her body and her life.
She had a wedding planned in 2022, which fueled her motivation. She met trainer Angela LoBrutto through a friend and decided to try out her outdoor classes and then Zoom classes when everything shut down. Alongside LoBrutto, she did a combination of strength training and HIIT training five days a week. After about three weeks, “I was seeing the results and was like, Wow, this is working!” she says.
After approximately four months of staying dedicated to her workouts, she lost about 30 pounds, and her hips went from 51 to 46 inches. When she finally went back to work, her coworkers were stunned and said, “Oh my God! How did we all get chubby, and you got in such good shape?”
Currently, Domenici works out twice a week with LoBrutto but has learned so much, she can work out on her own to keep her weight off.
After seeing herself as lazy by nature and never excited by physical activity throughout her life, Domenici says she is a changed person. “Now, I will purposely park far away from a destination to walk or try new things out of my comfort zone, like an Orangetheory class,” she says.
In fact, Domenici now loves working out so much, she’s considering becoming a licensed trainer herself. “I worked such a busy schedule in retail, but during COVID, I had free time to focus on myself. I was able to make positive changes that sparked something in me I didn’t know I had. I’ll probably always be on a fitness journey, and that’s the most positive thing to come out of this pandemic shutdown for me,” she says.
At 160 pounds, Hartsdale resident Marisol Torres was 40 pounds overweight during the summer of quarantine. Not being able to connect with other people made her anxious, so she found herself binging on Netflix, like others did, but overdoing it with comfort foods, like cinnamon sticky bread. “I went on overdrive with my eating because I was deficient on friendships and sanity, really,” she says.
One day, while lying down on the couch and looking at her bulging stomach, it occurred to her that something wasn’t right. Torres was a kids’ yoga and meditation teacher, so it was easy for her to motivate others, but when it came to herself, she felt challenged. She thought the only way she could succeed in losing her extra weight was if someone could keep her accountable.
She met trainer Angela LoBrutto through a friend and bought a 24-session training package immediately. She hated the idea of exercise but thought she would go with the maxim “Fake it ’til you make it.” Torres started seeing LoBrutto four times a week at a park, partly because she felt lonely.
After about six months, Torres noticed a shift and started to feel better about herself. She also gave up alcohol and learned about portion control. She discovered that a serving size of protein was the size of your palm and was in disbelief.
Physically, Torres’ body changed dramatically. The photos she took at the start of her transformation versus the end were “stunning,” she says. “You don’t really notice slow changes, but having it in photos was huge,” she adds. Torres saw that she looked healthy and strong and that the fat diminished from her lower abdominal area. She also saw a difference in her posture and skin. “I have to say I looked very miserable at the beginning of the experience, but at the end, I felt pretty badass,” she says.
Midway through her transformation, her father was diagnosed with cancer, and her workouts became a helpful outlet, emotionally. “Working out became a new way to process my emotions and feelings,” she says, “so I could better respond to the situation.”
Through it all, Torres found clarity and began a new career path, applying to NYU to finish a degree in organizational behavior and change. She also found the courage to start snowboarding, even though she sometimes gets scared when she’s at the top of the mountain.
“Yes, COVID was hard for all of us,” she says, “but it really allowed me to tune into my body and become braver than I have ever been.”