SAN ANTONIO - When Airman Mitchell Imlah first met with a military recruiter as a junior in high school, he weighed more than 300 pounds.
“When I went in I got looks because I'm a real big guy,” Imlah said. “"I felt really intimidated.”
At high school in Minocqua, Wisconsin, Imlah said his friends thought he was telling them another joke when he told them he was going to join the Air Force.
"Since I was the funny kid in high school, they looked at me as he's not serious," Imlah said. “That was tough because I was really on my own.”
The 18-year-old started with riding a bicycle, because he said that’s all he could do.
A few months later, he began running, and the pounds began to drop.
“I started feeling good,” he said. “I was losing 10, 20, 30 pounds."
A little more than a year after meeting with the recruiter, Imlah started basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
His drill sergeants in the 326th Training Squadron said the trainee from the small town in Wisconsin stood out, but for the first time not because of his weight.
"He definitely stood out among all his trainees,” said Tech. Sgt. Noel Hachtel. “He seemed to have done his homework."
Little did his training instructors know at the time just how much homework he had done until one day Imlah showed them a picture.
"It stuck with me and maybe he saw it in my face,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Yates, about seeing Imlah’s high school senior picture. “I then watched him a little closer and the amount of discipline and motivation that this young man has is amazing."
Imlah lost another 20 pounds during basic training.
He graduated last month, weighing 190 pounds.
This month, Imlah started medic training at Ft. Sam Houston, but he still carries his high school senior picture in his uniform’s front pocket as a reminder of how far he’s come.
However, now along with the picture, he carries his basic training honor coin – given to the top 10 percent of graduates.
“I’m proud of it too,” the airman said. “"I want to motive people to really push themselves to be what they want to be."
That’s what Imlah did and he said all he had to do was lose.