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Loss and Gain Inspire Local Dad to Get Healthy!


Even in the face of tragedy, some people find amazing strength and resilience to turn heartbreak into an inspirational journey to achieve physical, emotional and spiritual transformation.

Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare and with it, comes an unspeakable pain and suffering that is hard to grasp without a first-hand account.

In January 2013, Jon Gilland faced the unthinkable when his oldest son, Wesley, was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer known as Medulloblastoma. For more than a year, Wesley bravely fought long and hard to beat the disease. Unfortunately, the months and months of treatments and the aggressive nature of this type of cancer were too much for little Wesley, and he passed away at just five years old.

The days, weeks and months that followed would prove to be the most difficult time of Jon’s life as he has learned how to live with the reality that Wesley was gone, yet stay strong for his younger son, Lucas. The weight of Jon’s grief and responsibilities left him emotionally fatigued, overweight and riddled with health issues. In 2014, Jon was diagnosed with gout, a complex form of arthritis that affects men more commonly than women. His significant weight gain and underlying medical condition left him increasingly tired and unable to complete routine activities. Jon knew he was in poor health and had to do something soon in order to help himself and ensure he would be around for Lucas.

The motivation to change something about your life comes on differently for everyone. Some of us are naturally activated to try something new or go in a new direction. For others, the choice is not entirely their own. Misfortune or tragedy can strike any of us, and even in the depths of despair, hope can be found. The latter is just what Jon Gilland did.

Jon works full-time as a Recycling Center Operations Manager at Gastonia Sheet Metal. During a regular monthly staff meeting in March 2015, Jon made a decision that proved to be a turning point in his life. During the meeting, Donna Caskey, Human Resources Director at GSM, announced a community Couch to 5K Program being offered through CaroMont Health. The program promised to get anyone from the couch to running a 5K in nine weeks. Though reluctant at first, Jon made the decision that day to sign up to participate in the program.

“I saw this as a way to start over,” said Jon. “I am an emotional guy. I thought going into this would be very difficult, but it’s helping me deal with my grief and motivating me to achieve my health and wellness goals.

Jon decided when he joined the C25K that he would turn his emotional pain and the loss of his son into something good. He attributes his inspiration to keep going to his boys.

“Jon is such an inspiration to all of us at GSM Services,” said Donna Caskey. “His heartbreaking story will remind you of how precious life is and that we do not need to take one day for granted. Live life to the fullest and take control of your health. Jon has done just that by joining our team—he has been committed, inspiring and steadfast in his determination to succeed!”

Fast forward to today. Jon, along with 35 other GSM employees, are approaching the end of their 5K training journey just in time to participate in the upcoming CaroMont Community Challenge on May 16. Led by Donna Caskey, the training group continues to meet at Martha Rivers Park at 6:30 p.m. three days a week, rain or shine. Jon says he already notices a difference in his body and stamina and is able to keep up with others in the program. Since the group meets in the evening, Jon has even started bringing his son Lucas to train with him.

“Lucas discovered he loves running, and he’s quite the social butterfly, so he fits right in,” said Jon.

Within a year, Jon hopes to continue to lose weight and maintain his physical fitness regimen.

“I want to continue strengthening my core and run three miles without feeling winded,” said Jon. “I also want to get to a place where I feel comfortable in my own skin.”

Supporting him and cheering him along the way are Lucas and Wesley and together, they’re a strong father-son team that continues to work together to turn tragedy into triumph.

Jon plans to compete in the CaroMont Community Challenge on May 16 at Stuart W. Cramer High School. Come out to support Jon and hundreds of others as they cross the finish line! For more information about the event, please visit

Categories: Health