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Inside the CFL: A life-altering decision

Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Mike Jovanovich knew exactly when it happened.

The former offensive lineman, who graduated from Boston College, signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 1992. He joined the Hamilton Tiger- Cats after being released by Seattle, and also played for the Toronto Argonauts, Ottawa and Montreal.

Like many of his peers, Jovanovich waged a running battle with his weight, during and after his playing days.

"My first year as a freshman at Boston College, I weighed 300 pounds," he told Inside the CFL. "At the end of my playing days there, I weighed 285 pounds. In my CFL days, I played around 300-305 pounds."

Then, he admits, the problems started.

"I left football in 1996, got married and started having kids. After all the years of lifting weights and maintaining my weight, you get to a stage in life where other activities become more important. I wasn't as active as when I was playing, so in the first three years or so after I retired, I probably ballooned up to 340 or 350 pounds. It took me around three years to finally get motivated enough to go back into the gym and resume some sort of the grind, similar to when I was playing."

However, as he points out, when you battle a weight problem, it's not a matter of just exercising.

"My defining moment was in February 2009," said Jovanovich. "I went for a physical. We did the usual tests, cholesterol, blood pressure and so forth. I was as healthy as a 6-foot-5, 250-pound person. But one of the comments from the doctor was 'Mike, you're in fantastic shape, but as you get older, as you carry this excess weight, it'll start to put a toll on your body.' I had the exercise part down, but the eating in moderation part wasn't working. I'd go to the gym in the morning, and come home and eat three bagels."

So, he decided to resort to a drastic measure: Laparoscopic band surgery.

"Dr. Chris Cobourn, my bariatric surgeon, is a pioneer in the field," Jovanovich said. "In essence, in layman's terms, they put a throttle on the gas tank. They put a band on the top of the stomach, and create a little pouch. It tricks your brain into thinking you're fuller, faster, so it reduces the caloric intake. The band can either be constricted or you can fill it up. It's not invasive surgery at all."

The Toronto native says the decision wasn't too difficult to make.

"A friend of mine had it, and had great results. I talked it over with my wife, and because I wanted to coach my daughters' hockey team and we had travel plans, I just decided, I didn't want to be big anymore."

Jovanovich also knows he was a good candidate for the surgery, because, even though he weighed well over 300 pounds, he didn't suffer from any long-term effects from playing football.

"I was pretty fortunate that I didn't have serious injuries. I had pulled muscles, but never had reconstructive surgery on the knees or my back or shoulders. I was healthy bone-structure wise, but getting into my 40s, I thought I should do something about it."

Once he had the surgery, he noticed the difference in his diet.

"I could eat a whole pizza for lunch, but now, I have a slice of pizza maybe once a month. I just know the volume of breads, starches and carbs that I consumed was a vast amount, and now, it's 10 percent of what I used to eat."

The reaction he gets from ex-teammates and friends is one of amazement, and concern.

"The first thing people ask me, is 'Jovo, are you sick?'" he chuckled. "Normally you don't see a lineman drop that much weight. I know it is a cause for concern for some O-linemen, because most of the guys I played with are now in their late 40ss."

While he doesn't recommend the surgery for everyone, he says, the numbers show that, for him, it's a success.

"When I stepped on the scale prior to the surgery, I was 348 pounds and today, I'm about 257," he said. "My waist size went from 50 to 40."

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

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