Since surviving a cardiac episode last year, out celebrity fitness expert Bob Harper renewed his commitment to healthy living

Since surviving a cardiac episode last year, out celebrity fitness expert Bob Harper renewed his commitment to healthy living

Fans of celebrity trainer Bob Harper were astonished when news broke a year ago that he had suffered a near-fatal heart attack while he enjoyed a routine Sunday workout at the gym. Harper was, after all, the epitome of health and fitness. Community shock, however, paled in comparison to the fitness star’s own disbelief.

“I tell you, when I woke up in a hospital two days later with friends and family from Nashville and from L.A. telling me that I had a heart attack, I literally was like, ‘You guys must have the wrong person!’” Harper recounts. “There is no way that could have been me. It was a really crazy experience, and it’s been a really crazy year.”

Harper has since learned that high levels of lipoprotein(a), a hereditary condition from which he suffers, precipitated the unexpected cardiac event. Together, he and his doctors have charted a course of treatment, a process which has afforded the fitness expert some peace of mind. Yet the 52-year-old Harper cannot completely shake a feeling that his heart betrayed him.

“I definitely felt like my heart gave up on me,” Harper says. “That was kind of what I talked about and what I felt. This heart that has been beating in my body for as long as I’ve been alive just stopped one day. It was a really challenging experience. Also, being able to get to a place where I could trust my heart again has been a really interesting process.”

Not surprisingly, the near-death experience reformed Harper’s outlook on life. He now finds fresh perspective on what is important. He also feels that, “before it’s officially lights out” for him, he has many tasks left to tackle.

“What I’ve realized now is that life can just be taken away in an instant,” Harper says. “I want to be able to appreciate every single day. I want to be able to find the gratitude in every day because it can go so quickly. I don’t want to stress about things that I don’t need to stress about anymore.”

The prospect of a fresh start — an idea that is particularly appropriate at the beginning of a new year — inspired Harper to write his book The Super Carb Diet. In it, Harper lifts a long-imposed ban on carbohydrates … well, sort of. While bad carbs like potato chips and sugary sodas — ones Harper calls “carbage” — are still off limits, he encourages a sensible, measured diet that includes fiber-rich complex carbohydrates.

“What I really feel like people need right now in so many ways in their lives is balance,” Harper says. “And that is what The Super Carb Diet is all about. It’s about pressing the reset button. It’s about balancing your diet again and being able to incorporate your protein, your fat and your carbs every single time that you eat.”

Harper cautions, though, that the plan is not a fad diet or quick fix. Instead, the plan’s objective is to adjust one’s lifestyle and outlook in the long term, a task which demands both effort and time. Harper, in fact, is up front in his book about requiring a 90-day commitment to the plan.

“I think my publishers were nervous about that 90 days,” Harper says, “but I really do believe that this is not a diet. I feel like it’s a way of life. And this is going to be something you can do for the rest of your life. Again, it is about balance. I’m not telling you that you can’t eat bread. I’m not telling you that you can’t eat pasta. I’m telling you that you can eat all these things, still stay strong and lose weight.”

Of his many accomplishments, Harper is most proud of his tenure both as a trainer and host on the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser. In it, he was able to assist contestants in making dramatic body and life transformations. He found the work rewarding and was grateful for the opportunity. It also gave Harper, who was at first silent on the show about being gay, an opportunity to make a public revelation as he assisted a contestant struggling with his own coming out issues.

“I came out of the closet when I was very young,” Harper says. “When I was working in television years later, people would ask when I was going to come out. I was confused by that because I wasn’t in. By not talking about my homosexuality, it cast a light that I was not out. I had to find that time and place to make it really important.”

Harper, who sports two full tattoo sleeves, is also passionate about his body art. While he favors tattoos of an American traditional style, Harper confesses that, other than having a fondness for each image, the tattoos he has selected lack any particular importance. Harper now plans to add at least one more tattoo to the mix, one with special significance.

“This one will absolutely have a meaning,” Harper says. “It will follow in line with the style that I like. There was a time when sailors used to tattoo nurses on them. It was a sign of protection. It was a very strong female figure in their eyes. I plan on getting a nurse tattoo to commemorate what I went through.”

And Harper intends to continue sharing his story of survival.

“I have found that people are so eager to tell their story,” Harper says. “I’m the same. I’ve met so many survivors now. It’s kind of this club that you don’t ever want to join. But once you are in this club, it has a profound effect on you and you want to get that story out.”

— Scott Huffman