Coleman Trades Tonnage for an Extra Helping of Fun
Byline: Joe Bush
Used to be this men's club called the Tons O' Fun club, and in case the name doesn't reveal the exact calling of the clique, it consisted of rather large fellows having rather large amounts of fun whenever they gathered on the offseason wrestling circuit. Much of this fun centered around food.
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Lester Coleman was the organization's de facto president for years. Simply put, in the Tons O' Fun presidential campaign, the biggest Ton O' Fun won.
"A lot depended on the majesty of your weight," Coleman says.
The jolly group included former Chatham-Glenwood coach Ken Root and St. Laurence coach Tom Gauger. They let a skinny guy - Marist coach Mark Gervais - tag along on their adventures, but only if he followed the rules, which were really habits Gervais chronicled through observation of the TOF members. Such as:
Never use the stairs; always drive to a destination; eat late-night meals, even if you don't want to.
That was then, this is now, and now Coleman, like Groucho Marx, wouldn't want to be in any such club that would have him as a member. At 286 pounds, Coleman certainly is still the biggest of the bunch, but in the past year he has broken most, if not every, TOF rule.
See, Coleman weighed 436 pounds last March, and instead of worrying about his health these days, he playfully wonders if his Tons O' Fun pals will acknowledge him.
"I hope that I'm not ostracized," he jokes.
Pardon the expression, but, fat chance. Since volunteering in 1977 to help the wrestling and football programs at his alma mater, Wheaton Central - then earning a teacher's certificate when he realized how much he enjoyed contributing - Coleman is one of the preeminent figures in Illinois wrestling.
From November to the end of July, Coleman's calendar is full coaching the Tigers and CLP, the area's most prominent offseason team, as well as tending to his duties as vice chairman of USA Wrestling's Illinois branch, coaching Cadet and Junior teams and involving himself in espoir and college wrestling.
It's common to see Tigers opponents, from every corner of Chicagoland, paying their respects to Coleman before, during and after meets. He has a nickname for most of them.
This immersion stems from a high-school and Knox-College wrestling career Coleman describes as "lousy," and "never much better than .500."
When Coleman says "I wish I knew then what I know now," he's talking about wrestling knowledge, but could just as well include eating habits.
Wrestling for Ed Ewoldt at Wheaton Central, Coleman weighed 185 pounds as a junior and 215 the next year. His weight kept climbing, and a knee operation in his freshman year at Knox pushed him over 300 pounds for the first time.
He tried to reverse the trend in 1981, dropping to 260 pounds, but as many who crash-diet find out, early losses are easily regained. From then until last March, Coleman gained 170 pounds, and thinks it's "amazing" he didn't gain more.
He drank six to 12 calorie-laden sodas per day, ate anything, anytime, and never exercised. His energy sapped by mere existence, Coleman would occassionally nod off during practice and began suffering from sleep apnia - he would stop breathing for seconds at a time while he slept.
Sure, those around him voiced their concerns, but as Coleman says, "It takes you a long time to listen to people, no matter what your problem. …