The COVID Wake-up Call: Serge Matta’s Health Transformation

ByMelissa YingerFebruary 25, 2021

The Tipping Point

“Everyone needs a wake-up call. COVID was mine,” Serge Matta said.

Matta, who is the chief executive officer for ICX Media, Inc., in Vienna, Virginia, had grown accustomed to a busy life and fast-paced schedule working in the tech industry not far from the nation’s capital. That all came screeching to a halt in June of last year when he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It was around Father’s Day,” Matta said. “We were in quarantine for more than two weeks — 16 days.”

For Matta, COVID came with its usual host of symptoms, including extreme fatigue and loss of taste and smell. It also brought with it an important realization: He was at greater risk from infections like COVID due to his lifestyle choices and ill health.

Being healthy “is a hedge against things like COVID,” he said, noting the novel coronavirus “affects everyone differently, but if you play the odds, the healthier, fitter people don’t seem to be as affected by it. They have better odds.”

The Turning Point

In August, Matta decided to lay down his chips and place a bet on CrossFit Mill Street, which goes by “The Mill” on social media and among its members.

“My son gave me one week,” Matta said. “I’ve tried a lot of things and nothing stuck,” he explained, so when his wife, who was already an avid CrossFitter, convinced him to join The Mill, his son assumed this new endeavor would have an expiration date.

Matta accepted his son’s challenge and joined the foundations classes at The Mill.

“It was really hard at first,” he said.

At 306 pounds, Matta noticed “box step-ups — not even box jumps but box step-ups” were hard on his knees. But he was tired of feeling fatigued when going on walks, and he didn’t want to remain as vulnerable to sickness and disease. He decided to go all in.

“I’m going to start coming every day,” Matta said, and that’s exactly what he did.

Matta started attending the 12 o’clock “Burn” classes at The Mill. For one hour every Monday through Friday, he stopped answering calls and emails and focused on his health. That hour became sacred.

“I don’t know what it is, but now if I miss the gym, I feel off,” he said. “I don’t miss it. I go every day,” he added, noting the importance of sticking to priorities and setting boundaries.

At the same time Matta started regularly attending the gym, he made significant changes to his nutrition, opting to follow a diet with no sugars and no grains, or an NSNG diet. He also stopped drinking alcohol and gave up Diet Coke, a beverage he was in the habit of consuming multiple times a day.

Matta said the changes were difficult but became easier after the first few weeks. Despite the challenges, and maybe in part to prove his son wrong, Matta has been able to stick to his strict diet and exercise regimen. His health and quality of life have improved markedly as a result.

The Support System

Matta attributes his success to a number of factors.

“It’s not any one thing,” he said. “It’s the exercise. It’s CrossFit, yes, and it’s also the nutrition. But it’s the coaches and the community,” he explained.

The support of gym owners and coaches like Mike Corcoran, Brett Wilson, Chip LaRue, Kendra Riggs, and the countless others at The Mill helped keep Matta on track with his fitness goals.

“When someone is obese or has comorbidities, they don’t need someone yelling at them,” Matta said. “They need support and encouragement. That’s what my coaches did. If I messed up a movement 1,000 times, they helped me fix it 1,000 times. No judgment, because they know we’ve all been there. Mike Corcoran especially has been a godsend and I’m extremely grateful.”

Matta said he felt confident coming in during the pandemic because the coaches maintained strict protocols, limiting class sizes and going over a COVID symptom checklist with members every time they entered the gym.

“The coaches really care and are really passionate about helping people,” Matta said.

That care was evident to him when his 13-year-old son’s sports programs were canceled for the year and the coaches at The Mill offered to create a teen class to help him and his friends stay active — now Matta and his 16- and 13-year-old sons all train CrossFit.

Matta noticed a similar kind of care when he interacted with the CrossFit community at other gyms as well. When vacationing with his family, he stayed consistent with his training and made several visits to CrossFit Lewes, a gym that can be found just a few miles inland from the Delaware coast, tucked between Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Rehoboth Beach.

Kris Carper, the gym’s owner, is “in there every day with her dog,” Matta said. Like the crew at The Mill, she’s passionate about helping people, he added.

“If it wasn’t for them and their passion, I would have failed.”

The Transformation

Since his wake-up call last June and new focus on health in August, Matta has managed to completely transform himself.

In five months, he has lost more than 75 pounds. He no longer gets tired on walks — in fact, he and his wife regularly walk 6 to 7 miles in the evenings — and box step-ups aren’t a problem anymore.

“Now I can do everything — almost everything,” he said.

Matta has improved many of his health markers, too.

“I got my blood panels back from my doctor, who had only ever yelled at me to lose weight,” he said. The doctor wrote him a note that said his “blood work was good, red and white blood cell counts were good, lipids, etc. were all good.” His uric acid levels were also down 200 percent, which was welcome news for Matta, who has a history of gout.

Matta shared the results with his wife, and she said, “‘Oh, I guess you aren’t going to die any time soon,’” he recalled with a laugh.

The quantitative improvements in Matta’s health have corresponded with a number of intangible, qualitative improvements as well.

“I have a lot more energy. I don’t need as much sleep,” Matta said. He has also noticed he is no longer hungry all the time. And he’s experienced significant improvements to his emotional and mental health, he said.

“It used to be, when I had bad days at work, they’d be really bad. I’d get upset, feel pissed off,” he explained. “Now I handle the stress a lot better. I don’t get stressed out as much. My son noticed. He says, ‘You’re a lot more laid back now, Dad.’”

As improvements like these have accumulated, Matta has set new goals for himself — mastering pull-ups and getting down to 185 pounds by summer, for example — and with the continued support of the coaches and community at The Mill, he’s confident he can get there.

The Mill seems to be doing all right despite the pandemic, Matta said, but he worries about the gyms that are losing revenue from mandatory closures.

“People need this,” he said.

Ask Congress to Pass the Gyms Act to Save Local Gyms

Comments on The COVID Wake-up Call: Serge Matta’s Health Transformation


Comment thread URL copied!
Back to 210226