How a DIY Project Inspired a Lifestyle and Career Change for Tom

By Nate Widom

Many may not anticipate that one project can evolve into a lifelong passion for health and empowerment. And that is precisely what happened to HAC Personal Trainer Tom Lombardo when he built a patio in his backyard.

For several years, Tom owned a commercial janitorial business. However, things changed once he had children and became a stay-at-home dad. While being a father to three children was one of the things he loved most, it caused him to forget about his love for fitness. “I always had this nagging feeling where I felt I needed to be doing something,” Tom says. “It put me in a bit of a funk.”

“I unintentionally got myself to a level of fitness that I didn’t think I would ever get to”

During his “funk,” Tom was inactive, gaining weight, and not running like he used to. But all of this changed in March 2017 when he came up with an idea.

In a seemingly inconsequential conversation with his wife, the couple discussed how their family dog would play in a large pile of dirt in their backyard and get the house dirty upon coming back in. Tom suggested he build a paver patio so the soil does not go to waste or attract the dog. And as a result, Tom started watching DIY YouTube videos about building patios and began his project.

But building a patio from scratch is no small feat, and Tom’s backyard has a unique landscape that made the project especially challenging. “The ground slanted upwards, so I knew there would have to be a lot of dirt moved and put somewhere else,” he describes.

“If you’re just digging a hole, proper form isn’t much of an issue,” states Tom. “But if you’re clearing as much dirt as I had to move, you have to do it right, or you’re going to hurt yourself.” To dig up the three feet of ground between him and his new patio, for months, Tom would pickaxe the ground, load the dirt into a wheelbarrow, dump it, spread it out, and repeat.

Once complete, Tom had to tamp down the stone and paver base. While he could have rented a gasoline-powered tamper, he opted to do it by hand. The tamping process of building the patio is what Tom loved the most due to the cardio workout it provided. Though it was enjoyable work, it became quickly evident that Tom wasn’t in the physical shape necessary to take on such a project. He would build for an hour or two and then need two days of rest to recover.

Tom’s daughter sitting on the patio wall during construction.

After a couple of instances of taking time off, Tom began to think about what he was putting in his body. “I felt like I was doing a high-performance work, so I needed to be feeding myself high-performance foods,” he says. “I started off very simply because the road to a healthy lifestyle is baby steps.”

Tom utilized a policy where he would take away one unhealthy food from his diet and add a portion of healthy food in its place. First, he replaced soda with broccoli, and he continues to make similar healthy substitutions to this day. According to Tom, learning more about your body and diet is vital.

As the project carried on, Tom noticed himself feeling stronger and stronger. And the positive effects weren’t only physical. “I was finding that I was more patient with my children! I was getting along better with my wife, there were some enhancements in my spiritual life, I felt more connected to God,” he states. “Everything just felt better once I started doing that project.”

Tom felt terrific and knew he needed to ramp up his fitness. He bought several pieces of workout equipment, went out for routine runs, and made it his goal to remain active on days when he didn’t work on the patio. Tom’s favorite part of the patio project was tamping, and he wanted to mimic the cardio-inspired goodness that he felt when using a tamper. He experimented with several different pieces of equipment like battle ropes, kettlebells, and jump ropes to find something that would emulate the experience he loved.

“Everything just felt better once I started doing that project.”

Ultimately, Tom knew one thing— his exercises needed to be fun. “That’s why I tried so many different things,” he explains. “If I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, it would be hard for me to go back to do it. So, I was looking for an exercise that got me to where I needed to be and I enjoyed.”

Tom specifically enjoyed cardio and now views it as critical to his practice. “Cardio is the foundation for my exercise routine. If I’m not running consistently, I’m not going to have what I need to swing that bell or have the endurance to go 20 minutes on that battle rope.”

During that summer, Tom became 20 pounds lighter, but this isn’t where his journey ended. In fact, it was just beginning.

Even though Tom was exercising now more than ever, he realized he wanted more. Tom reached an epiphany on a neighborhood run and realized he wanted to help others. “I don’t wanna lose what I found. I like who I am. And that’s when I got the idea to be a personal trainer,” Tom asserts. “Not only would I be able to help people coming from where I was to where I was at that point, but it also had to put me at that level of fitness where I could be a personal trainer.” During the winter of 2017, Tom enrolled in a personal training course and became officially certified to train clients the following September.

Tom’s Patio

By the time the patio was mostly complete, Tom was down 40 pounds. And as one can expect, Tom utilizes his patio regularly. Currently, the deck has a fire pit and benches for pleasant family gatherings.

As with any DIY project, there was a bit of a learning curve. “If you look at it closely, it looks kinda amateur if I’m being honest,” he admits. “But anytime I look at that patio, it reminds me of the process.”

To Tom, the most challenging part of his journey was getting started. And his experience makes him deeply relate to his clients. “I understand where they’re coming from. And it wasn’t that long ago where I was overweight, 40 pounds heavier, and just kind of grumpy about life,” states Tom. “So, there’s a very pure empathy that I bring because I know where they’re at, and I know how I got to where I am.”

Tom believes anyone can get fit and knows he’s living proof of that. “It is possible!” states Tom. “I unintentionally got myself to a level of fitness that I didn’t think I would ever get to by doing this patio project. And that’s one thing I stress to my clients – that you really don’t know your limits. When you hit a wall, you can learn to climb over it. If I could help somebody transition and be a better person…I thought that was one of the most rewarding things someone could do.”

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