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Derrick Bona had been on Twitter for at least a decade mostly to keep up on his beloved Toronto Blue Jays, also to stay abreast of the happenings of the world — when, in early 2023, he took to the social media platform to document his journey “rewriting the chapters of my 600 lb life.”
Since then, the Eastern Passage chef has received messages of support from as far away as Scotland, the United States and western Canada, from complete strangers like broadcaster George Stroumboulopoulos, all inspired by the grit of this man who, at age 41, has decided to finally take control of his health and life.
A message Bona received the other day caught his eye:
“People told me to offer you some encouragement, but you don’t need any,” said someone named Arnold, whose Twitter bio describes himself as “Bodybuilder, Conan, Terminator, and former Governor of California” and who went on to say, “You’ve got this, so I’m really just sharing your tweet to inspire everyone else. I’m proud of you.”
Arnold’s last name, in case you are still wondering, is Schwarzenegger.
As well as being the most famous bodybuilder in history, the Austrian Oak is also actor, who has played some of the most iconic roles in film history.
People told me to offer you some encouragement, but you don’t need any. You’ve got this, so I’m really just sharing your tweet to inspire everyone else. I’m proud of you. https://t.co/v9wrh8VfIN
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) April 19, 2023
When he talks about health and inspirational stories, people tend to listen.
In the 10 hours after the Terminator’s tweet dropped, some 600,000 viewers clicked on Bona’s feed.
“To me is the fact that he made it personalized,” Bona said, “wasn’t just a message, he took time to look at it and show me love.”
His story just has that kind of impact on people.
Bona, you see, grew up in St. Peter’s, Cape Breton, a big kid from the start who loved baseball, and his grandmother’s cooking, the Acadian dishes like rappie pie and the freshly baked pies, and delicious stews that she always brought to the table.
“It amazed me how she had all of those recipes in her head,” he said. “Food just became a big part of my life and I made a career choice out of it.”
After studying in Holland College’s culinary arts program, he headed back to Cape Breton, working in kitchens around the island.
In time he moved to Halifax, where he operated the kitchen at Gullabull’s Bar & Grill with enough flair to win Faces Magazine’s award as favourite Halifax chef of the year in 2010.
After that, came a stint as chef at an iron ore mine in Labrador. But the chef’s world is hard one: high stress (just watch the Hulu series The Bear); long hours standing on unforgiving floors and working on nights, weekends, and holidays when everyone else is off.
9 weeks ago, I hit Rock Bottom mentality and Physically and Emotionally. Ready to give up on myself, then something told me not to quit. So I started clean eating, Just weeks I started feeling more positively. Today I’m almost 55Lbs lighter, and in a great mental space.
— Derrick Bona (@ChefBonesNS) April 8, 2023
A decade ago, in search of a better work-life balance, the married father of two became the hospital patient food chef at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, a position that also gave him a greater sense of accomplishment than working in a restaurant kitchen.
At Christmas, Bona took a leave of absence from the job he loved.
“My weight has always been my kryptonite,” he said when we spoke.
A trip, years back, to finally see the Blue Jays play live was ruined when Bona couldn’t fit in a seat near the field.
Saturday Weight in. Down another 5 Lbs, 24 lbs away from never seeing 500 again!💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/ILRctOlHmX
— Derrick Bona (@ChefBonesNS) April 15, 2023
Along with the physical ailments, came emotional and mental problems: anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem.
Lately, as his weight approached 600 pounds, he had grown depressed and, with his physical limitations, had stopped doing much of anything.
The low point in Bona’s life came this past Christmas. While picking up his dad for a gathering at his sister’s home in Lower Sackville, Bona slipped and, try as he might, could not get up from the muddy grass outside of his van.
“All at once all the anxiety and panic hit,” he said.
The moment left him in a dark enough place that he “was planning to go and see my mother,” who had died in 2020.
But Bona pulled back from the abyss, in part out of fear that, even though he was already experiencing a lot of weight-related pain, a botched suicide would just add to his anguish, mental and physical.
And so, the journey that should have started long ago finally began.
You can see it all on Twitter: pictures and videos of the healthy grub on which he dines now that the binge-eating that for so long served as a comfort during times of stress and anxiety, has been reined in.
If he and his wife Angie Leblanc-Bona go for a walk, you will learn about it there. When he heads for a session with his thrice-per-week personal trainer Rick Horseman, there Bona is on Twitter, flexing a bicep just like Schwarzenegger would have back in his Mr. Universe days.
How, honestly, can you not root for a guy who says that he is “working my butt off literally to get back to the career I love.”
A guy who, in this age of narcissistic selfies, proudly tweets a picture of himself at 542 lbs., smiling face underscoring how good he feels about his weight loss, while promising “more to come.”
Bona would love to see 250 lbs, but if he slims down to 300 and is healthy that is good, too.
For now, his goals are the small stuff that lots of folks would take for granted: being able to bend and tie his own shoes. If he falls down, Bona wants to be able to get back up again.
But the progress is undeniable for a man who now will not only accompany his wife to the grocery store, but parks in the lot as far as possible from the front door, so he can get extra steps in going from car to store.
The old little league pitcher dreams of one day soon seeing another Blue Jays game, maybe even getting out on the field where he can bend to touch the cool outfield grass, possibly if the gods are generous, even throwing out a pitch on opening day.
Or, at very least, to sit comfortably in a seat watching this team and game he loves. Just a normal guy, doing normal things.