By Jennifer Bowen, Auburn Montgomery
-- David Hart is on a mission to become a new man. Fifteen pounds lighter than he was just a month ago, he's been a bulldog when it comes to hitting the gym and eating better.
Photo: Dr. Michele Olson demonstrates a sport-specific exercise to David Hart using a bow and some balancing pads. The exercise is designed to help Hart develop muscles that will allow him to shoot left-handed in a steady and skilled fashion.
"For lack of a better term, it was a midlife crisis," Hart said. "You wake up one day and you're overweight. Your oldest daughter is graduating from high school, and you just feel like you're overdue for a change."
Realizing his life boiled down to a series of rituals - waking up, showering, heading out the door to work, coming home, eating and sleeping, only to do it all over again the next day - became a defining moment for the 38-year-old Buckmasters online specialist.
"I had become what I swore that I would never allow myself to become - predictable," he said.
Hart decided it was time for a life makeover. He made the decision to get in shape and to take up bowhunting again, a hobby he hadn't been able to participate in since a near-fatal car wreck shattered his arm more than a decade ago. Today, he has three plates and 24 screws in that arm.
"The doctor said, 'It's asleep,' and that's basically what it was," said Hart. "The only thing I could move on that arm was the tip of my index finger for almost six months after the wreck.
"Once I got back into thinking about hunting, I realized I couldn't draw the bow with my left hand. The torque on the bow is 60 pounds. When I pull the bow, it feels like someone is crushing my arm."
He knew he could no longer shoot right-handed. Strike one.
Photo: David Hart works up a sweat doing crunches during a fitness check-up in the AUM Human Performance Lab. Hart lost 15 pounds and 2 percent body fat in his first month working out.
While researching what exactly it would take to get back into bowhunting in spite of his injury, he came across a staggering statistic: The number one killer of hunters, according to research, isn't accidents in the field, but heart attacks.
At 260 pounds and not very active, Hart knew he could very easily fit the profile. Strike two.
Determined not to strike out, his personal conquest for change took on a wider focus. He not only wanted to transform his own body, minimizing his risk for cardiac problems, but he also wanted to inform other hunters of the risks they could be facing.
"[When you hunt], you've got a lot of equipment to carry," he said. "Many times we'll take a treestand in, which weighs 20-30 pounds. You'll be probably wearing 5 pounds of clothes, if it's cold. And you'll be carrying a bow or rifle. Just walking in, you'll easily be packing 40 pounds of gear, but it gets worse.
"Then you're walking a mile, sometimes more, to your stand to get in where the big boys live. To get where they hide, you walk through briars and brush. You may be going up and down hills to get where they hide. That's where the heart attacks come from primarily, just lugging your stuff in and out. Then if you add a deer, which could be another 200 or more pounds, on top of that, you are asking for trouble."
Being the online specialist of a national hunting organization, his platform was easy. Hart began a blog on www.buckmasters.com, sharing the warnings about heart attacks with the site's visitors, as well as his story of personal a crossroad and desire for change.
At the suggestion of a friend at Buckmasters, Hart contacted Auburn University Montgomery exercise science professor Michele Olson, who designed an exercise program just for Hart to help him reach his goal.
"His doctor cleared him to exercise, but indicated to him, 'You have a lot of cardiovascular risk factors.' We found the same thing in doing his tests," Olson said. "Being lighter and having more endurance will make him more efficient in the field. He'll be able to do the same amount of work with about 50 percent of the effort."
She designed a program with a mix of cardiovascular exercises to reduce his heart attack risk and muscle training to help him shoot a left-handed bow.
"I'm not as stable as I'd like to be in the field and that can make you miss or worse," Hart said. "The stronger you are, the more steady you can hold that bow to where the arrow needs to hit to make the most humane kill possible. If it's done properly, the deer never knows anything."
Olson's program includes Hart doing 45 minutes of cardio work 6-7 days a week, walking 10,000 steps a day (the average American only walks 1,500 steps), lifting weights to develop tricep and bicep strength, doing crunches and lats, and utilizing a surgical band, which specifically helps develop the muscles used in archery. The exercises will help pave the way for Hart to enjoy safe and successful hunting trips, regardless of what game he brings home.
"If you haven't been paying attention to yourself, the statistic is there: The number one cause of hunting deaths is cardiac arrest," Olson said. "You're more likely to have that happen than to fall and break your leg or get accidentally shot."
Hart believes the sweat, toil and sacrifice will be worth it when he heads to Wisconsin for a charity hunt this fall. Buffalo County, the site of the hunt, has been one of the nation's top locations for producing record-size deer.
He also knows that having a worldwide audience watching his progress via his blog has helped keep him stay accountable and motivated. Hart hopes that he can return the favor and give others a little motivation to make a life change as well.
"I want to inspire people to get up off the couch and maybe sweat a little with me."