Washington Man Bullied As a Teen, Bullied As An Adult

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Bullying may seem like it's something that only affects kids, but adults can be a target as well.

Thirty-nine-year-old Jerry Woolard of Washington in Beaufort County is proof of that. He's lost 120 pounds over the last two years - and you can usually find him at the gym working to lose more weight. But as successful as he's been, his story is a painful one.

Jerry says, "There's all these people just calling you name after name, hitting you with names. And you're just like - I don't want to live no more. You look for the cowardly way out. I've been driven to that point so many times."

Woolard says he was picked on as a kid for his weight, but says it got worse as an adult. At 20 years old and nearly 600 pounds, he says he went to the hospital to get help and overheard someone there say he needed to go home and die. Woolard says, "I had my dad's .357 and I was going to do like they said - I was going to go home and die."

Woolard says the only thing that stopped him was his two-year-old brother. "Looking at me like 'you're stupid - I need you. That was the turning point, impact - the turning point. I knew I had to do something,"

Marissa Errickson is a doctoral student at East Carolina University who is studying the impact of bullying on overweight teens. She says, "So mostly, being self-conscious. Those reservations in self-esteem. Feeling like they're not worth as much as other people - which of course is not true. But that's how strong the impact can be."

Errickson says those who are bullies as kids tend to be bullies as adults - and says the impacts of bullying on overweight adults are similar, although it's not an issue we hear as much about.

Woolard has been working out at Fitness Unlimited in Washington for two-years and hasn't looked back since. He now works out at the gym almost every day - doing everything from yoga, to lifting weights to running and walking on the treadmill. Here, he says he doesn't get picked on - he fits in with everyone working towards a healthier life. He now weighs 289 pounds and has dropped 10 pants sizes.

Fitness Unlimited owner Austin Thomas says Woolard is not only changing the way he looks, he's also changing his attitude about life and building self-confidence. "When Jerry first started coming, Jerry didn't talk to anyone. Now Jerry talks to everyone."

That increased self-confidence is what Woolard says helps him deal with bullying, which he says he's still a victim of to this day. He says, "I was running through Washington Park Saturday - a practice run. And somebody drives by and throws a McDonald's bag at me and says run…fat….Run"

Errickson says in an ideal world, we'd be able to stop bullying - but says until then, it's important to teach victims of all ages healthy ways to handle bullying, like responding assertively to negative comments or teasing.

Woolard has his advice: "Go to the gym. It's helped me - saved my life."

Jerry is hoping his story will help save the lives of others dealing with adult bullying, too.