Food was Matt Limegrover’s vice as he climbed the college football coaching ladder and became the Gophers offensive coordinator in 2010.
He was a 6-2, 300-pound lineman when he graduated from the University of Chicago in 1991. Once he settled into his coaching profession, he steadily started gaining about 10 pounds per year.
“I ate when I was happy, I ate when I was sad,” Limegrover said. “I ate when I was lonely, I ate when I was bored. If you put it in front of me, I was going to eat it.”
The Gophers went 3-9 in 2011, their first season running Limegrover’s offense. He also serves as the team’s offensive line coach, and the stress that year took a toll, leaving him lethargic. He went to the doctor in January 2012 and weighed in at 403 pounds.
“I was taking six, eight Advil a day, just because my joints ached,” said Limegrover, 44. “If we had practice, I’d take three or four more. I had sciatica in my lower back and my leg. I just thought this is how it’s going to be.”
Limegrover doesn’t smoke, and he’s never been much of a drinker, but he couldn’t control his weight. He had a 61-inch waist and a 22-inch neck. He suffered from sleep apnea, and the doctor warned that he was a candidate for diabetes and hypertension.
After years of failed diets, Limegrover was out of answers. He had considered gastric bypass surgery but wondered, “Does it work? Is it voodoo medicine?” He’d heard of the successes, such as TV’s Al Roker, but he’d heard of football coach Charlie Weis’ near-death experience, too.
Limegrover learned what the leading research now shows: Morbidly obese patients have far more success controlling their weight through gastric bypass surgery than they do through diet and exercise. That is, if they can adjust to the lifestyle changes that the surgery necessitates.
After visiting the HealthEast Bariatric Care unit in St. Paul, Limegrover threw himself into the preparation process, beginning in February 2012. He had the surgery May 21, 2012.
Now, nearly one year later, Limegrover weighs 235 pounds, a level he has maintained since New Year’s. He has a 42-inch waist and an 18-inch neck, and his quality of life has improved immeasurably. Instead of six Advil per day, he said he’s taken six Tylenol tablets total over the past year.
Limegrover avoided talking about his surgery publicly at first, but now he hopes his story can positively impact the lives of others. He feels like a new man.
“Being able to go play with my kids, and roll around on the floor and wrestle with my son,” Limegrover said. “Or go to the Children’s Museum, and not say, ‘You guys go ahead, I’ll watch from out here.’ ”
Limegrover and his wife, Ann, have two children, Emma (10) and T.J. (8). The whole family was seen after a Gophers football practice last month, playing softball together.
“He’s definitely not as tired,” Ann said. “He bounces out of bed in the morning and doesn’t complain. There’s that sparkle in his eye, which he’s always had, but he’s even sharper now.”
Key preparation phase
Weis had gastric bypass surgery in 2002 after winning the Super Bowl as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator. He rushed into the surgery, went into a coma and nearly died. Those experiences are chronicled in Weis’ autobiography, “No Excuses.”
“I probably read that chapter six times,” Limegrover said. “The thing that struck me was, at minimum, this was going to be a six-month process for me as far as education, being on a monitored diet, changing my habits.