By Lea Rittenhouse | Photos by Chris Pound
When a former band mate was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in fall 2010, Tyler native Dustin DeLong received a health wake up call that would ultimately change the direction of his life.
At the time, the Tyler native and Grace Community School graduate played keyboard for Luminate, a signed Christian band based out of Tyler.
“In a band, you don’t really have time to think about your health, or think about what you eat. You just kind of don’t get much sleep and you eat really terrible,” he says while recalling the touring lifestyle —playing about 200 shows a year.
After Cody Clark, the guitarist for Dustin’s band, was diagnosed with MS, he became increasingly health conscious, eating holistically and gluten free in attempts to remedy his condition. His new consumption patterns limited how his symptoms flared up.
Watching Cody become health aware made Dustin realize the importance of health and proper nutrition intake.
“All the guys in the band started eating healthy to support Cody, our guitar player, and his diet changes,” he says.
Dustin also began running after noticing rapid weight gain following his 21st birthday, an activity which would later become a passion of his, although, he didn’t like the exercise at first.
“When I got back home for Thanksgiving from being on tour, I decided to start running, and at first I really hated it,” he says. “For probably almost six to eight months I hated the running, but I was just determined to lose the weight.”
By spring of 2011, the chore of running had developed into a passion and Dustin signed up for his first marathon. Training for the race while on the road with the band was a large commitment, but he managed to continue running while living out of a tour bus.
The combination of healthier eating habits influenced by Cody and regular exercise provided Dustin with what he describes as a “more fruitful life.”
“It was just kind of mind blowing to see the differences — how much energy I had,” he says with a humble demeanor.
Around the holidays in 2011, the rigid touring started to wear on Dustin and he began to reconsider being in the band. After five years, the lack of sleep and extensive traveling ultimately contributed to his bittersweet choice to leave Luminate in January 2012.
“I’ve always enjoyed music … it’s still such a pleasure for me and something I love to do, but I think the traveling was just starting to wear on me,” he says. “Honestly at the end of the day I just wanted to be home with my family. It just started to become a huge struggle.”
Since transitioning out of Luminate, a secondary passion of Dustin’s resurfaced — a passion for missions work, but he wanted to be intentional about how he approached missions.
“It’s one thing I knew I would probably do at some point but I just put it aside because when you’re in a band you don’t have time for anything,” he says. “It’s really in the past year or so that the passion has really come alive.”
A last-minute missions trip to Sierra Leone, Africa with Young Life Africa last spring brought perspective to how he wanted to pursue missions. Along with serving at a YL Africa camp, Dustin also got to visit a medical clinic, shaping and confirming a desire to do medical missions.
“Going over there you get this perspective; it’s really eye-opening. It’s definitely culture shock, but it truly was a blessing to go over there and go serve,” he says while describing his trip. “Getting to go there just confirmed what I want to do. I really feel like I’m going to work in pediatrics or OBGYN, somewhere in that area.”
Dustin says his new goal drives his daily tasks of being a biology student at Tyler Junior College — in order to pursue medical missions — and his job as a pharmacy tech at East Texas Medical Center.
“After leaving the band I had zero hours of school, so I’m at TJC … trying to crack away at pre-med,” he says reflecting on his life changes. “It’s a lot of time but it’s worth it to me.”
His passion for running continued to grow after leaving the band, adding relay races, 5k’s and 10k’s to his experience since participating in his first race in 2010. Dustin continued to run with a group called East Texas Striders.
A couple members of his running group competed in triathlons, and their talk of the experience peaked Dustin’s interest; so he set out do complete a half ironman triathlon October.
“The beginning of 2012, I just set up this goal to do a half iron man, not knowing really what I got myself into,” he says. “I remember telling a couple of guys in the group and they were kind of like, ‘don’t you want to start on something smaller?’”
A half ironman is a 1.2-mile swim, 56 miles on a bike and a half marathon, and the ironman is double the distance.
He purchased a bike online and began to train. He started to feel confident about the biking and running — but the swimming was a different story.
“I got in the water to do 650 meters and I thought I was going to die that day,” he says. “At that point I was scared to death. I was like I shouldn’t be doing this, or I’m going to have to do a lot of work, and I chose the work.” Two weeks later he competed in sprint length Rose City Tri — one month before the Toyota U.S. Open Olympic Tri — his goal race. Although his results in the sprint tri were less than desirable, Dustin was able to tighten his time before the half iron man triathlon.
“Through training and doing the tris, you learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of … I think a lot of people miss out on a lot of life because they talk themselves out of things that they just don’t believe they’re capable of,” he says. “Anything that’s worth it in life requires you to go through a season of pain or struggle because if it’s worth it I think it turns out that way.”
Although Dustin finds enjoyment in running and competing in triathlons, he says he has to keep his love for health and exercise in check, so it doesn’t become an obsession like it has in the past.
“Eight to nine months into me running I started to really focus on my diet and it was pretty much consuming me,” he says. “I had been adding mileage pretty quickly and I got injured. I got what’s called Compartment syndrome in my right shin.”
He says the temptation to over-exercise and practice food deprivation stems from insecurities of being overweight when he was younger, but his remedy lies in his love for others — the same passion that fueled his desire to play music and fuels his desire to do missions work.
“There’s no freedom in going on a strict diet. When it consumes you, its not really freeing. At that point it just becomes about yourself and you can’t really serve other people or love other people like I feel like we should on this earth,” he says. “The more that I am able to focus on other people and love other people the less of a problem that is for me.”
Dustin treasures the five years he was in Luminate and all he got to experience, but he doesn’t regret his choice and says “each day is a new story.”
He hasn’t retired his love for music; instead, he continues to play in a worship band for Green Acres in their Crosswalk service.
“I’m still getting to really do what I love as far as music goes. Getting to do it and still sleep in my own bed at night,” he explains with a laugh.
For now, 23-year-old Dustin continues to chip away at his degree in hopes of helping people.
“I just love being able to pour into people. I just want people, honestly through my life, to see Jesus because that’s the only reason I’m alive,” he says. “Just being alive is a mission trip.”