Fred Leonardi had no idea his quest to lose weight would result in far bigger gains. Falling in love with running and triathlons, he completed his first Ultra Marathon this year and now the 55-year-old has an Ironman and the South African Comrades Marathon on his radar.
“You know how you walk around barefoot and your feet become hard? If you think along those lines, that’s how your body ends up being – you harden up”
In 2010 Fred Leonardi was told by doctors that he needed to lose weight in order to live a healthier life. After taking on board the medical advice, Fred decided to take matters into his own hands by joining the Townsville Road Runners and starting his own fitness journey.
This journey has led him to compete in multiple marathons and triathlons, including his latest achievement – the 64km Ultra Marathon from Kuranda to Port Douglas.
When Fred started he was barely able to run 50m without losing his breath, but has since pushed himself to his absolute limits.
“When the doctor told me I had to lose weight the only way I knew how to was through running,” Fred tells. “My first 50m, I was huffing and puffing that bad my son rang the ambulance because he thought I was having a heart attack.
“The next day I went for a run again and my wife came with me, and she said ‘you’d better stop, you look like a mess’, but I persevered.”
Since then Fred has persevered through multiple marathons and triathlons, and in May he decided it was time to take part in his first Ultra Marathon, lacing-up in late August.
“I would really recommend doing this one for someone doing their first big Ultra,” says Fred. “Anyone that has done a couple of marathons would be able to do it. I didn’t want to pick something that was hard; I just really wanted to test myself out.
“You know how you walk around barefoot and your feet become hard? If you think along those lines, that’s how your body ends up being – you harden up.”
For Fred, pushing himself is the key. He encourages everyone who wants to start competing in marathons, or who currently competes, to set continual goals for themselves and – most importantly – constantly test their limits.
“When I first started out with marathons, I did seven in my first year and a lot of people wouldn’t even do two, and that’s what kept me going,” explains Fred. “Once I had run for one marathon, I had already registered for another one, so the motivation was always there. But if you stop doing that, stop having that goal in front of you, if you haven’t got something set in place, then your motivation will drop.”
The biggest thing he’s learnt is that we set ourselves boundaries of what we can and what we can’t do. “The further we push our boundaries, the further you go, the more you see. Once you have the belief, everything just slips into place,” shares Fred.
“We underestimate what our abilities are until we really push ourselves – that’s the biggest thing that doing marathons has made me realise”
Triathlons and marathons are run in exotic and amazing places all over the world and attract hundreds of thousands of competitors and viewers alike.
Fred intends to compete in as many of these as he can, but there are still a few key events he wants to tick off his bucket list, starting with the Comrades Marathon – a 90km Ultra Marathon that takes place in South Africa in May.
“The whole nation comes to a stop [for the Comrades], it’s televised by every TV station in the country, it’s huge. So that’s definitely appealing,” says Fred.
“Next year I want to do the Ironman in Cairns, after doing the Ultra I know hands down I can do it.
“It will test every facet that I have but I have no doubt that I can do it. It’s just being more confident with self belief.”
Whether it’s marathons or just everyday life hurdles, there’s always room for inspiration, and Fred says there is one thing that every competitor can do to help spread this inspiration into the younger generations.
“You know how you get the little kids that do the high-five? I really believe that it’s very, very important to go out of your way and do the high-fives to those kids. I really believe that if you can make that little kid look at you and think, ‘one day I want to be a runner’, you can change that person’s life. They are going to have to have clean living, so no smoking and no alcohol, and they’ll be fit.”
Fred’s journey started out with him simply wanting to lose weight, and now he is on his way to being a well-known and respected competitor in the running circuit.
For those undecided about participating in a marathon, Fred had this advice:
“We underestimate what our abilities are until we really push ourselves – that’s the biggest thing that doing marathons has made me realise.
“A marathon is just so special; I wish a lot people would do one, because the camaraderie is great. Everyone is out there to spur everyone on.
“I just think everyone should have a crack at a marathon, it will stretch you to your limits but just do it.”