This is a story about Sol Setton. He is a 24-year-old community member who was and in some cases, still is, a contributing committee member of the The Sephardic Food Fund, Leaders in Training, SBH Young Adults, The Stella Liniado Foundation, and The Center. He is also a young man who struggled with his weight for many years until he changed his lifestyle.
Sol had to be at class early, but the room was pitch black- his dorm mates in his Jerusalem apartment were still asleep. He reached for his pile of clothes. Pulled up. Pulled over. Zipped. Buttoned and walked out.
Upon his return, his roommate Dan stood at the door asking why Sol was wearing his pants. Sol was baffled. With a 40” waist there wasn’t a chance he’d be wearing Dan’s size 32” trousers. But he was wrong. He was indeed standing there in his roommate’s pants! He couldn’t believe he’d gone down a full size in such a short period of time. And that’s when he decided to make a change.
Sol went to Israel after graduating high school. Wanting shed the image of being “the big kid,” he stopped eating. His mother Audrey would call from New York and tell him to eat, but there he was on his own, able to do what he wanted, and what he wanted was to be thinner. Thus, he began starving to achieve his goal.
This was not a new story. His weight had fluctuated all his life. For example, before his bar mitzvah he was 50 pounds too heavy. He lost the weight in time for the big day only to gain the full amount back when the celebrations were done.
As a youth, Sol would eat a full pizza pie in one sitting and never just one dessert. His mom had to stop buying the small snack bags for the family, because he’d eat 15 consecutively. Audrey constantly begged her son to curb his diet, but her efforts were futile.
In one of many pictures Sol keeps on his phone to remind him of his “fat years,” flesh spills over swimming trunks while his handsome facial features are buried in cheeks that resemble plush pillows. It is this image he decided to leave behind that day in Israel as he stood wearing clothing that was not his own. He wanted to neither binge nor starve. Instead, he desired a healthier lifestyle that included an exercise regimen. On a date he set in his calendar, he headed down three flights to what he describes as “the dungeon gym” in his Jerusalem apartment building and began lifting rusty weights.
Six years later, Sol, now 24, wakes at 5:00am and gets to the Center gym at 5:45 where he stretches, lifts, grunts, and hollers during his hour and fifteen-minute workout. There he sees fellow ironman Joe Benun. They begin with a yell and a nod that acknowledges each other’s desire to be left alone–in the zone. During Sol’s sessions, he listens to motivational speakers like Eric Thomas and Tony Robbins. He says, “I do it to stay motivated. They talk about the ‘why’ in life.”
Another person who motivates and inspires Sol is David Jolovitz, the director of health and wellness at the Center. “After my year in Israel I went to the Center and David took me under his wing. He worked with me for an hour every day for eight months. Then, he encouraged me to train others – working four hours a night. At this point, I know everyone in the gym. They call me Papi and ask me questions. Along with my answers, I say, ‘These are the words of David Jolovitz.’ He taught me everything I know.”
David says, “Sol works his body hard. He swims, plays basketball and football, does yoga, and runs. Once very overweight, Sol has leveraged a healthy lifestyle to accomplish incredible feats, including the NYC Marathon, his first, this past fall.”
Sol does Spartans, Tough Mudders, triathalons, and NYC marathons. He says, “I drive to Boston, Virginia, Pittsburg, and have friends that do it with me–all Center guys. I’m about to do my tenth Tough Mudders race and am going to receive a headband. I’m getting crowned.”
Another interesting characteristic about Sol is what he eats and when he eats it. Every day, after he wipes the last morning sweat from his brow and heads home at 7:30am, he is greeted by his mom preparing his breakfast: six chicken burgers or a few steaks plus broccoli and eggs. “There’s always four eggs with my chicken or steaks for breakfast, no matter what.” He declares. “And it’s all my mom. She’s unbelievable. She gets the credit. She gets up at 6:30am and does all of this for me.” Along with tons of vegetables, variations of this menu are repeated for lunch and dinner. “I always get comments, ‘You eat steak for breakfast?’ I call it Breakfast for Champions and share my meals on Snapchat.”
“I love to guide people.” Says Sol. “I just recently began to train my brother, who’s known in the gym as Mini Papi. He’s 16. I like to encourage him and others to get fit. I tell them to just start. It’s about creating a new lifestyle. Yeah, I say like Nike, ‘just do it.’”
Renée Beyda is a freelance writer, artist, mother and community member living in Brooklyn, NY.
By Renée Beyda