June 17, 2016
ANN ARBOR, MI — At his heaviest, Greg Skrepenak weighed 535 pounds and was pretty much a homebody.
He didn’t get out much.
The former University of Michigan and NFL football player, who played offensive tackle under former Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler, said he’s always been a big eater, but his diet caught up with him in his post-athlete years.
Last July, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular and rapid heartbeat that can lead to a host of problems, including heart failure.
Skrepenak, 46, said he knew he needed to make a change. He went on what he calls a heart-healthy diet, but he still ate fish and chicken, consumed dairy products, and cheated here and there.
He saw some decent results, but not enough.
Two months ago, Skrepenak decided to listen to the advice he was getting from his former Wolverines teammate, Marc Ramirez, who has been publicly sharing his story of losing weight and reversing type-2 diabetes by going vegan.
“He’s helped me out a lot,” Skrepenak said. “He’s been on me for the last three or four years to get on this whole-foods, plant-based diet.”
Skrepenak said he always procrastinated, saying, “I’ll start Monday. I’ll start Monday.” But he never followed through.
Until two months ago.
“After talking to Marc again, and hearing how he got off his medications, that’s what really appealed to me,” Skrepenak said.
“Over the last couple months, I’ve been on a strictly plant-based, whole-foods diet with the aim of trying to get off as many meds as I can.”
Now in his ninth week, the 6’8″ former offensive lineman said he’s lost another 40 pounds, bringing his weight down to 425 pounds.
His goal is to eventually get down to 330 pounds, about where he used to be during his playing career.
He has a long way to go, but he’s already feeling a lot better.
“I’ve been extremely pleased and kind of shocked by some of what’s been going on, and Marc has been there every step of the way,” Skrepenak said.
“To tell you the truth, I’m shocked that I’m actually doing it,” he added. “I’m an eater. I was a guy who liked to eat. If someone had told me that later on in life I would not be eating (meat or dairy), I would say, ‘Come on, seriously?'”
He said he doesn’t really miss meat, though he does miss dairy.
“But I don’t really want to go backwards,” he said.
Skrepenak, who now lives in Pennsylvania, will be a special guest this Saturday at a free seminar in the Ann Arbor area.
The seminar is being organized by Chickpea and Bean Inc., a nonprofit organization that Ramirez and his wife, Kim, started to help others learn about the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
The event runs from 4-6 p.m. at the Bill Crispin Chevrolet dealership at 7112 E. Michigan Ave. in Pittsfield Township, just south of Ann Arbor.
Ramirez and his wife recently organized a similar seminar in the Ann Arbor area that was attended by 230 people.
“We had such an overwhelming response that we are having another meeting,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez will be discussing how he eliminated all five of his medications in two months for type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and how he has been medication-free for more than four years.
Other speakers include retired professor Victor Katch, who taught nutrition and exercise at the U-M School of Kinesiology for many years, and Dr. Nirmal Kaur, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Henry Ford Health System.
Katch will discuss “science and plant-based eating,” while Kaur will discuss “a physician and mother’s professional and personal journey to plant-based nutrition,” according to a flier for the event.
Skrepenak was a two-time All-American, team captain and four-year starter during his time at Michigan between 1988 and 1991.
He went on to play in the NFL for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders from 1992-1995 and then the Carolina Panthers from 1996-1997.
He said Ramirez has been a great inspiration and mentor as he’s been learning to navigate uncharted waters these last two months. He said his blood pressure already is coming down, his skin blemishes are clearing up and feelings of nagging inflammation have dissipated, improving his quality of life.
“I’m just in the infancy stages of this,” he said. “I looked at it as more of a lifestyle change than a diet.”
Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at email@example.com.