• Tanner Kern

How One Day at Universal Studios Changed My Life Forever

Updated: Apr 13

Well people, it's about to get real...

Let me paint the scene for you guys.


January of 2017:

I love theme parks. I always have and I always will. My parents on the other hand don't love theme parks. Since I've been a child on our family vacations, I've dragged them around Disney/Universal to a point where they're definitely not the fondest of these two places.


In January 2017 over my college break, my parents decided to take a vacation to Orlando on the condition that they would not step foot in a theme park. Despite this, the good news was that they would be willing to take my girlfriend at the time on the trip. I was pumped and so was she. I thought this would be the best trip to the parks that I had ever taken in my life.


Let me take a step back to the fall of 2016:

This was my first full season of football I had ever missed due to injuries. I was still on the team, but I wasn't practicing or really working out which began my massive weight gain. I started the summer off at 300 pounds and when the Florida trip came around I reached my peak of 340 pounds. I didn't view myself any different at this weight though. I hadn't really been stepping on the scale consistently and I personally couldn't see a difference in the mirror. I still had the identity of the "big football player" which would come to a sudden end as we progressed into 2017, but that's besides the point.


Lets get back to the trip in January 2017!

Me and my old girlfriend had four days worth of theme park tickets. Two days at Disney followed by two days at Universal. Disney was a lot of fun.


Also, just to clarify: The picture here is me staring at a turkey leg...not my ex girlfriend!


After two days at Disney, we couldn't wait to get to Universal Studios for one reason...The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! She was a huge Harry Potter fan and I was a decent fan as well. Just movies though, not books don't @ me.


As soon as the gates opened we took a dead sprint towards Hogwarts to check the place out and get on their marquee ride at that time which was the forbidden journey attraction inside the castle. There was a five minute wait time once we got to the ride and as we attempted to enter the castle, one of the employees working the entrance gate asked me to sit in the test seats outside the ride to see if I could fit. I didn't think anything of it and sat down, but I kept seeing a red light when I tried to lock the support bar in place. Then he tried to lock it in, but the red light kept shining.


He said to me, "I'm sorry sir, the ride can't fit your body dimensions. But, you're more than welcome to walk through the castle in the ride line and check it out. The attraction designers did a really nice job."


I was emotionless. I didn't know what had just happened because for the first time in my life, I was too big. I got up and my girlfriend at the time said lets try another ride. So we went over to the Wizarding World's other main attraction and I was met with the same exact fate. The ride worker said, "I'm sorry sir..." and as soon as he began to talk I got up and left. I told my girlfriend that I had to go to the bathroom and we both knew what I was doing as I tried to hold back the tears.


I was in there at least ten minutes and I had never cried so hard in my life. I felt like I ruined the day for her and at the same time I was hit with a big uppercut of reality from a place that I had loved forever.


I came out of the bathroom and she asked me if I was okay. I thought I regained composure and then I lost it again which was even worse because it was right in front of her as well as thousands of park visitors. She tried to console me, but nothing was going to work that day. Not even my mom who is the one person in the world that can always cheer me up could get me out of the sadness I was experiencing.


We went to guest services and requested to get a ticket refund. I had to tell the lady working the desk when she asked why we wanted a refund that, "I couldn't fit on the rides." The day kept getting worse and worse. We called my parents to come pick us up, but they were an hour away. We went to lunch in the CityWalk area and sat in silence. It was hard to even order my food without bursting into tears.


My parents finally arrived to pick us up after we ate and of course my mom was attempting to make me feel better as soon as I opened the car door. She was reading articles of how Universal discriminates based on body size because people who also hadn't been able to get on rides wrote about their experiences. She was trying to find the examples of the lightest and tallest people who had wrote about being denied from Universal's attractions. The only difference was that these guys she mentioned just happened to be seven feet tall.


The others who she didn't mention that I later looked up were like me at the time...Extremely obese.


The trip went on, but I wasn't completely there mentally. I kept thinking about that day: January 11, 2017. To this day, I haven't forgotten that date and I don't think I ever will.


We grow through tough times. I'm a firm believer in that message. The more pain we endure, the tougher we become for the next inevitable difficultly we will encounter on the journey of our lives.


That's why when I look back on this day, I'm filled with gratitude because I don't know if I'd be in the position I am today sitting here writing this blog. I ended up going to the nutritionist because when I got back from the trip, I made the decision that I had to lose weight. I got my numbers and I was 340 pounds on the dot with a body fat percentage of 43%. I had a long road ahead of me, but Universal made me take the first step on the journey.


At this time, I was also a massive fan of wrestling. One of my favorite wrestlers, Seth Rollins, had the motto "REDESIGN. REBUILD. RECLAIM." when he tried to return to wrestling after a torn ACL and I adopted this mentality in my life. This label I received at Universal would NEVER define me again. I was going to redesign my diet and exercise, I was going to rebuild myself with this new plan, I was going to reclaim my happiness, and I wasn't going to stop until I got it done.


So fast forward to June of 2017:

My football career came to an end in the spring so weight loss was my new identity at the time. By June, my weight was no longer in the three hundreds as I was right around 285 pounds. My parents came up with a spur of the moment vacation for the three of us before I began my summer job to California for four days which was awesome.


They planned the trip and surprised me. One day was to be spent at a winery. Another was planned for a day at Disneyland. We had tickets for a Dodgers' game one of the nights, but the fourth item on the vacation agenda was a stop at Universal Studios Hollywood which had a duplicate version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with the same two rides I was denied access to just five months earlier.


June 3, 2017:

As soon as the park opened at 9:00 am, my parents and I sprinted toward Hogwarts to get on the forbidden journey ride. When the ride was in sight, I immediately saw the test chairs for the "big people" and I got scared. A reason my parents planned the trip to Universal was for me to see the progress I had made and I didn't want to come all this way and see that the ride was still unable to support my "body dimensions." We walked up to the test chair and the employee working the entrance asked me to sit down. I grabbed the support bar, pulled it down over my head, and the green light flashed!


The two happiest moments of my life thus far were finishing my first marathon and then being able to fit on the rides at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I'm not going to lie,

I am getting emotional just writing about this moment. It showed that the hard work was paying off and it fueled me to keep going. Everyone told me something along the lines of, "You're big boned. You won't be able to lose weight. I don't think you'll be able to get below 250 if you do." In this moment right here, I knew nothing would stop me from my goal of losing 100 pounds.

Here's the post victory selfie for your enjoyment. I defeated a demon that had plagued me for five months and it was a truly amazing feeling. The only sad thing was that I didn't love the ride. Honestly, it kind of made me sick, but what I went through to get on it made this moment at Universal one that I will cherish forever.


So people ask me a lot today what fuels me as well as why did I start a website, blog, and podcast?


My answer is simple. To show you that anything is possible with the right mindset!


If you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear them! Please don't hesitate to reach out by email or on any of my social media platforms!

0 views

Tanner Kern is a 22 year old coach, runner, and blogger from Connecticut. He is the host of The Tanner Kern Podcast and creator of "It's a Process: A Blog About Life, Running, and Everything in Between."

  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon

© 2023 by Tanner Kern.