At 45, Perretta stood 5-foot-11 and weighed more than 300 pounds. He suffered from knee injuries and high blood pressure, and had trouble keeping up with the other dozen or so participants in his training group.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” the Upper East Sider said. “I was the heaviest and oldest and slowest. We’d be working out in the spinning room, surrounded by mirrors, and I’d see myself and think, 'How am I ever going to do this?'”
The answer, he discovered, was to take it one workout at a time.
Four months after Perretta started the program in 2005, he crossed the finish line at his first triathlon, 30 pounds lighter and many times more confident.
Perretta, now 54, has since transformed his life. In 2009, he became a certified personal trainer and was later hired by Asphalt Green. He now coaches Simply Tri, the program he credits with saving his life.
An athlete in high school and college, Perretta maintained a healthy lifestyle throughout his 20s. However, in his 30s a combination of work stress, emotional eating and a slowing metabolism led to significant weight gain, despite of his three-times-a-week gym routine.
Perretta decided to make a change after he ran into a friend from college who didn’t recognize him.
“I said, ‘It’s me, Pat,’ and I could sense that she felt bad for me,” he said. “It was my lowest moment.”
Perretta reached out to an Asphalt Green trainer who had encouraged him to join Simply Tri, a program designed for beginners and those who want to lose weight.
He said it worked for him where other diet and exercise programs failed.
“For me, it was the accountability of a team. I needed that structure and support,” he said. “It also tapped into that old competitive spirit again.”
Since that first contest in 2005, Perretta has completed eight more triathlons, at both sprint and Olympic distances. He has also lost more than 100 pounds.
In 2008, while training for a half-Ironman, Perretta was running in Central Park when he felt dizzy and collapsed.
When he woke up three days later in the hospital, doctors told him that he had a rare heart defect that was exacerbated by his years of obesity and high blood pressure. He survived what is often a fatal condition in part because of his healthier lifestyle, which had resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate.
During his recovery from emergency heart surgery in 2008, Perretta decided to leave his career as a fashion buyer to become a trainer. He felt that the Simply Tri program had saved his life and wanted to help others achieve their own health goals.
Since 2010, Perretta has coached four 16-week sessions of Simply Tri each year, with about 10 to 12 participants in each session.
Paul Weiss, Asphalt Green’s chief program officer, said Perretta sets a great example for his team.
“Simply Tri is a starting point for the non-athlete to engage in lifestyle change through a sport with few barriers to entry other than a willingness to get moving,” Weiss said. “Pat sets a powerful example for how important this transition can be."
Simply Tri members commit to six workouts each week, three of which are group sessions with Perretta.
In addition to attending cycling, swimming and running practices, members develop a strength-training program with Perretta’s supervision. They also meet with a dietician several times during the four-month process and keep a food journal.
Lizzie Lequesne, 41, participated in Simply Tri in the spring of 2013 because she wanted more energy to play with her 3-year-old daughter. She said the program changed her outlook on her abilities.
“It really made a big difference for me in terms of thinking about what I could do, what was achievable and what limitations I had placed on myself in the past,” Lequesne said.
Although she had to stop the program halfway through due to a serious medical diagnosis, Lequesne is once again training to complete her first sprint triathlon.
She still uses many of the Simply Tri workouts and maintains a relationship with her former coach.
“Pat is terrific," she said. "He’s so supportive and just really kind."
Perretta said that roughly 70 percent of participants choose to compete as a team in a triathlon at the end of the 16 weeks, even though the competition comes secondary to training.
“The goal is health first and foremost,” Perretta said. “It’s about changing your lifestyle. It’s about changing your life.”
The next session of Simply Tri begins April 21. For more information, check out Asphalt Green's website or email email@example.com.