Losing 67 pounds for Phil Hayes goes beyond a goal reached just over a year ago. He has kept true to a promise he made to his wife shortly before she died.

Hayes, who reached 178 pounds after changing habits over 15 months, is the crowned 2016 Washington TOPS King, a title given by the nonprofit Take Off Pounds Sensibly. The award recognizes his achievement of losing more weight than any other male member in the state.

His journey began September 2014, when he and his wife, Judy, joined a Spokane chapter of the weight-loss support group. Phil Hayes had tipped the scale at 294 pounds, his highest weight ever, when he wore 3X shirts and 46-inch waist pants.

“It was getting harder to find clothes,” Hayes said. “I started to have health issues. First, I became diabetic. I had cholesterol and blood issues. I decided it was time to do something about it. I wasn’t getting any younger.”

Now 70, he had tried TOPS more than a decade ago, when he lost a few pounds but dropped out after a year, thinking he could do it on his own. He returned even more determined.

However, Judy never got the chance to go with him to the weekly TOPS meetings at the Turning Point Open Bible Church, because of her own health issues. While she was in the hospital, Judy urged Phil to remain in TOPS to lose weight, shortly before she died on Oct. 9, 2014.

“She told me, ‘Well, stick with it this time and don’t give up,’ ” Hayes recalled. “I told her, ‘I will.’ I made a commitment. We had talked about losing weight for some time.”

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Much has changed for Hayes since making that promise. He found support from other TOPS members, walked regularly, and employed healthy eating tips. He slowly dropped 6 to 8 pounds a week until reaching just under 180 pounds, a goal set by a physician as best for Hayes’ 5-foot, 7-inch frame.

“Once I started losing weight, I felt better,” he said. “I could climb the stairs without stopping part way up to catch my breath. I joined the YMCA and started going there three times a week, at least. At my last annual checkup, they’d taken me off all my medication including for diabetes; it’s under control.”

In June 2016, he remarried. He and new wife, Clara, now live in the Nine Mile Falls area in Washington State.

Hayes, treasurer for his TOPS group, regularly attends the weekly meetings since reaching his goal weight in December 2015. He received the Washington King award last summer, and attended an international TOPS meeting in Florida in July for weight division recognition.

Shopping for clothes isn’t a challenge anymore, now that he’s wearing medium- to large-size shirts and 36-inch waist pants. “I eat more vegetables now, and salads. I started using olive oil instead of shortening and vegetable oil; that makes a big difference,” he said. Hayes eats more fish and chicken, less red meat, and chooses fruit instead of desserts.

“I made the decision if I were to lose weight it was up to me. It benefited me because of health issues. It was a goal for me to live up to, and I did it.”