By Ann Leach

It didn’t take long for 32-year-old Cody Wilkins to get the message after watching a couple of close family members struggle with health challenges. “My cousin’s husband had a massive heart attack at age 39,” Wilkins said. “That got my attention and I started going to the gym.” 

Another cousin was in St. John’s hospital when the 2011 Joplin, Missouri, tornado hit. “That tornado messed with him, and he was basically in his last hours from lifelong health challenges,” Wilkins said. “I was visiting him, and my aunt and uncle introduced me to his childhood best friend, who co-owned a small football team, the 4-State Fusion, a semi-pro arena-style team.”

The games were played on a field about a fourth the size of a regular football field. “It’s insane how fast it is,” Wilkins said of his time playing on the field. “So, I needed to work on my cardio. I got on a treadmill to see if I could run a mile and thought I would die.” 

 Wilkins weighed in at 270 pounds at his high school graduation in 2010 and at 370 pounds at his college graduation. “I had never thought of doing cardio, let alone running,” he said. “But I started losing weight.”

Wilkins began running in April 2018 as a way to increase endurance for playing football after injuring a shoulder. His workout included running five days a week for about a year, completing his first 5K in October 2018. 

“I got the runner’s high and wanted to do it again,” Wilkins said. “I began telling myself, ‘See if you can do it faster tomorrow.’” The mantra paid off and Wilkins found himself running a seven-minute mile.

January 2019 found Wilkins a bit bored with running, so he began looking at triathlons and did his first one in March of that year. “I also became a competitive swimmer as a result,” Wilkins said. “I currently hold three state and citizen records in the state of Arkansas. And I am the 2023 runner up in the Under 39 Clydesdale National Championship in the middle-distance triathlon. And I’ve completed one obstacle course race and numerous 5Ks.” 

Meeting lifelong friends is a benefit of running for Wilkins, as are the health benefits. “My knees were hurting and sounding like a bowl of Rice Krispies and I could hardly walk,” Wilkins recalled. “My knee would give out and I lost potential work opportunities before I began this journey. Now I can go out and run and clear my head, enjoy nature and the quiet.”

Wilkins lives in Webb City, Missouri, with his wife, Becca, and their daughter, Ruby. He enjoys family time and doing 3D puzzles when he’s not racing.

“My cousin’s husband had a massive heart attack at age 39. That got my attention and I started going to the gym.” 

– Cody Wilkins