Ryan Barrett grew up around the airport.

Dad is an airport police officer. Mom is a ticket agent.

Barrett loved the rush of landing in a new place for family vacations.

Now 27, he plans to keep up the family tradition of working in air travel. He’s so determined that six months ago, he quit his job to focus full time on flying.

But before he can enroll in an accelerated flight training program, he’ll have to meet a strict weight limit of 250 pounds.

At his heaviest, the 6-foot Omaha man weighed 323 pounds. Since July, Barrett implemented a regular exercise routine and revamped his diet. He’s down about 40 pounds and hopes to drop about double that.

Barrett said he’s always struggled with his weight. He played sports in school, but didn’t have motivation to be an all-star athlete.

In July, he signed up for a six-week program at Premier Combat Center. His goal was to lose 25 pounds or 6% of his body fat during the session. He beat the challenge and stuck with the fitness center near 136th and Q Streets.

Last fall, Barrett decided to go after his dream to become a commercial pilot. He quickly realized working full time at Douglas County Corrections and trying to fly proved tricky. So Barrett picked up overtime and built up his savings. He left his job in December to focus on losing weight and flying.

Barrett planned to start a flight program in Arizona, then learned about the weight restriction in January. The limit is in place as a safety precaution for learning certain flight maneuvers. In the meantime, he’s working on his private pilot certificate in Council Bluffs. The Arizona program will help him nab the rest of his flight certifications, including a commercial pilot’s license.

Until he can move west, Barrett’s living off his savings and staying with his parents.

He tried to eat healthy before joining the gym, but it was a challenge. When he got breaks at work, he’d scarf down meals from Chinese restaurants, Burger King or PepperJax. When he indulged in fast food, he went all out, sometimes eating three or four burgers.

He quit smoking and cut back on drinking. Now he follows a strict diet recommended by the fitness center.

For breakfast he might eat half a cup of egg whites with onions, peppers, black beans, salsa and guacamole. Lunch is typically 9 ounces of chicken breast and a heaping serving of stir-fry veggies. Dinner is 9 ounces of white fish with guacamole or an avocado and broccoli.

Between meals, and usually after a workout, Barrett has a protein shake.

Adopting a new eating strategy made Barrett feel empowered, he said.

“I don’t want to eat bad because then I feel bad,” he said. “You are what you eat.”

Barrett takes high-intensity interval classes at Premier four to five days a week. He supplements those workouts with cycling and other cardio at another local gym.

Some days are tougher than others, but he’s never felt like throwing in the towel. Some inspirational books helped him push through. One of his favorites is “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds” by David Goggins. And this winter, when he stepped on the scale and saw the numbers get lower, he knew his efforts were paying off.

“It’s all mental,” Barrett said. “...I’ve worked my butt off. I’ve earned those pounds.”

Alex Libby, who’s known Barrett for seven years, said his friend inspires him. Barrett took a risk by quitting his job to pursue his dream career. Libby said Barrett has great discipline, often turning down meals out or drinks at the bar to stick to his routine.

“He’s one of the most driven and dedicated people I think I’ve ever seen,” Libby said.

Once Barrett hits his weight-loss goal, he’ll relocate to Mesa, Arizona, for the six-month program. It’s another step toward his ultimate goal of becoming a commercial pilot. But along the way, he’s learned more about himself.

“I’ve finally figured out my purpose in life,” Barrett said. “I’ve been lost. Having that one thing to put all of my effort into has helped my mental clarity. Everything’s coming together. This whole journey is figuring out who I am and what I want to do with my life.”

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