By Lyonel Doherty
The Six Million Dollar Man has nothing on Ralph Renzetti from Oliver.
The senior died once, came back to life, nurtures a pacemaker, had four hip replacements, is waiting for two knee replacements, needs new shoulders, has diabetes, lost more than 100 pounds and came fourth in the world’s powerlifting competition.
“Somebody at the top is looking out for him, I’m telling you,” said his wife Paulette in the Oliver Parks and Rec fitness room where the couple works out almost every day.
“He’s going to be like the bionic man,” she laughed, referring to all of Ralph’s joint replacements.
It wasn’t long ago that the former strongman and weightlifter could hardly breathe while doing sets in the gym. He even had to bring a fanny pack with oxygen just to get through his workout.
“My weight slowly kept creeping up. It got to the point where I couldn’t breathe . . . that was my wakeup call, basically,” Ralph told the Chronicle while leaning on a cane.
That was the last straw for the 420-pound man, whose scale “tilted” when he weighed himself one day.
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Ralph didn’t think he was eating that much until he began keeping a paper trail and found the opposite was true. Now he writes everything down.
His doctor thought he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but all of his complications went away when he lost weight, more than 100 pounds. (He now weighs 305 pounds.)
“He’s not huffing and puffing anymore, and he’s walking a lot better,” Paulette said.
And no more having to take one or two naps a day, Ralph rejoices. “My energy level is way up.”
The former firefighter (for 30 years) never had to worry about his health before. He got into bodybuilding in the 1970s and soon became addicted to weightlifting. He later won two Canadian championships in powerlifting, and held the dead lift record of 705 pounds for several years. (At that time he could squat 700 pounds and bench press 500.)
One day his fire chief approached him and expressed concern about his 320-pound frame affecting his performance. Despite passing the physical test again, the chief wanted Ralph to lose the weight, which motivated him even more.
During one strongman contest, he blew the cartilage in his knee and came home in a wheelchair.
Five years ago during a hip replacement, Ralph suffered a massive heart attack and was clinically dead for more than 30 minutes. He was reportedly shocked with the defibrillator six times before his pulse returned.
Today, he feels like someone gave him a new lease on life. No more wearing 6X shirts that looked like “gunny sacks” on him. Ralph’s advice to people in similar health circumstances – if he can do it with four hip replacements and two knees on the waiting list, anybody can.