But after a 2004 motorcycle accident that nearly took his life, the once-brawny V.P. of operations at a Decatur-based construction products company gradually ballooned to a staggering 515 pounds.
“I almost lost my leg,” said 36-year-old Shepperson, whose right knee was completely shattered in the collision. “The only thing that kept it on was skin.”
Shepperson, who now wears a prosthetic knee held in place by 28 pins, underwent painful replacement surgery that year and was unable to walk for nine months.
“I used to work out religiously, but after the accident I was still eating like I was working out but wasn’t working out,” he said.
That style of eating is not unique to Shepperson.
The DeKalb Board of Health says that only 51 percent of adults engage in the recommended amount of physical activity – 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous activity three days a week. As a result, it says that 35 percent of the county’s adults are overweight and 22 percent are obese.
After 10 grueling months of rehab and years of physical therapy, Shepperson tipped the scales at his heaviest weight in April 2011. He had high blood pressure, cholesterol that was through the roof, and a myriad of other obesity-related issues. That month, he made a decision to regain control of his health.
Shepperson cut the majority of meats from his diet, stopped eating after 8 p.m., and began drinking more water and controlling portion sizes. Before long, the pounds started falling off.
So in January when he was invited to join a walking group on Facebook, the Atlanta resident jumped at the opportunity to increase his activity level.
Today, he is one of more than 600 members of Lace Up, a weight-loss support group that meets every Saturday to walk up, down and around Stone Mountain.
David Manuel, a founding member of the group, is the executive director of the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts and Community Center in Decatur. He started it last December to help him lose 30 pounds to keep up with his athletic 15- and 18-year-old sons, Blake and Branden.
Manuel said he launched the group to get walking buddies.
“I’m the kind of person where when I go to the gym, I need a trainer or I need to work out with people. Because I’ll do about three reps and think, ‘Oh, I did good. Let me go ahead and go to Dunkin’ Donuts,’” he said.
On Dec. 22, Manuel posted a status on Facebook that he was walking Stone Mountain and invited his friends to join him. Two people showed up, and they walked the eight-mile trail.
Manuel posted another status on Dec. 29. Marvin Pough, personal trainer and one of five walking buddies who showed up that week, suggested they start a Facebook group to keep in touch. The pair recruited friends Minne Roberson and Eric Ervin to help organize the group.
Manuel named it Lace Up to encourage people to grab their sneakers and start working out.
By the third week, thirty people showed up.
“It’s so powerful when you get out of your car and you see 30 people waiting on you to start walking,” Manuel said.
As of Feb. 19, the group had 679 members. They range in age from early 20s to late 50s, from fitness beginners to personal trainers.
“My whole goal in creating Lace Up was so that people could have support and a way to encourage each other,” Manuel said.
On the Lace Up wall, members exchange recipes and workout ideas, post pictures of their weight-loss progress, and share stories and praises.
“Everybody’s focused on fitness for life,” said Cynthia Pope, who lives in Lithonia and joined the walks in January.
The 50-year-old public relations professional began her own life change in June 2012 with natural weight-loss shakes. She has lost 40 pounds and is determined to push forward.
“Last May we took some family portraits and I thought I was looking cute,” she said. “I had gotten my hair fixed, had my makeup on and thought, ‘Wow, these are really nice.’ By September, I had dropped a lot of weight and started looking back at those pictures and I was embarrassed.”
Pope says she doesn’t want to go back to pre-weight-loss size.
“I want to stay healthy. And that’s where Lace Up comes in.”
Shepperson, who is an active participant on the Facebook page, calls the group a support system.
“Not just as far as physically getting out with a group of people to exercise, but being able to share your stories and understand where people are coming from,” he said. “It’s almost like a family.”
Model, actress and photographer Tammy McGarity joined Lace Up to work out with people who are interested in a healthy lifestyle and to share tips she used to lose weight.
“We’re going up that mountain, and if some of us were going by ourselves, we would be more inclined to kind of stop halfway because it’s not easy,” said the 42-year-old Alpharetta resident. “When you go up with the group, you make that journey with people who are in the same boat. Everyone has the same goal in mind,” she said.
Shepperson and Pope said Lace Up welcomes all fitness levels.
“It doesn’t matter what level of exercise you do. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t exercise,” Pope said.
“If you feel like you can’t climb Stone Mountain, then wait until we come down. If you feel like you can’t go all the way around, walk halfway. Everyone makes sure they know who the last one in the group is that’s walking, and someone will come back and check on you. We make sure everybody finishes.”
“To see people of all different shapes and sizes and ages and races working together to support and encourage one another is just really inspiring,” said McGarity.
Since Shepperson’s first group trek with Lace Up on Dec. 29, he has lost 53 pounds, bringing his current total weight loss to 227 pounds.
“I started little by little, but ever since I hit Lace Up, I’ve been making leaps and bounds,” he said on Feb. 18.
Even though his right leg is still noticeably smaller than his left, Shepperson said it won’t stop him from running in Porter Sanford Center’s first Race for the Arts 5K on March 30.
Manuel organized the race after screening HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation,” a four-part documentary examining America’s obesity epidemic, at the arts center last July.
He said he wanted the community to know that the Sanford Center is serious about getting healthy.
“After we showed the film, I told people we’re not just about putting on the best dance performances, theatrical productions and concerts,” he said. “We’re going to be an arts center that’s going to get behind health.”
It is helping to create awareness about the risks of obesity and the benefits of healthy living.
“We could have had the walk on Peachtree or some other main street, but I wanted to do it in a community that we work and live in,” he said.
As they prepare for the Race for the Arts, Lace Up members are hoping more people will join them on their weekly jaunts. They kick off every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. sharp.
Being part of the group is easy.
“All you have to do is show up,” Shepperson said.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/groups/314494148666711. For information on the Race for the Arts 5K, visit www.co.dekalb.ga.us/PorterSanford/index.html.