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owen mckibbin, 54
author/lifestyle coach, los angeles 

Take another look at that photo. Does it look familiar? How about if you picture the Men’s Health logo over the top? Does it ring a bell now? 

Owen McKibbin has graced the cover of the fitness magazine a record 17 times, and the inside a number more (including in a photo by me, in the January 2017 issue). The reason why is quite simple: the former pro volleyball player has been one of the fittest men in America for quite some time, his workout routine included in a best-selling book and his obsession with nutrition inspiring millions more.  

Which is why he knew something was wrong when he entered a courtroom in southern California a few years ago and felt his arteries failing him. The firefighters who attended to him upon being called saw nothing amiss (quite the opposite, they recognized him from his books and told him he was in the shape of his life). Eventually, he managed to get to a doctor who told him his widow maker artery was blocked. “Dude,” he told him, “You just saved your life.” 

“I went from taking no pharmaceuticals to the most powerful on earth,” he said. The doctors prescribed rest, and about eight days in, McKibbin had had enough. 

“My best friend lived on the fourth floor of my building and I told him, ‘Listen, I’m going to swim in the pool. You just have to peek out of your window every two minutes or so to make sure there isn’t a floater,” he says,“…I can’t not work out anymore.”

McKibbin recovered in record time (of course), and found the perfect vessel to transport his message of fitness and health a few years later when he was introduced to the ketogenic diet, a fat-burning nutritional plan low on carbs. He’s become an ambassador for Wakaya Perfection and the coach of the Bula Fit Warrior Group, transforming lives through exercise and lifestyle change. He preaches the benefits of the ketogenic diet, and posts thrice-weekly fitness videos. But it’s in person at conferences that he gets the most out of his work.

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Owen gets very emotional, his voice is starting to crack when he tells me “I’m meeting people, they’re now in their 40s, 50s and 60s actually changing occupations,” he says. “We’ve got people that want to go into nutrition, want to go into training, that knew nothing about this three months ago. We’re affecting a demographic that thought this is as good as life gets and there’s nothing we can do about it.” 

McKibbin tells them to build a “willpower bank” by refusing the temptations that come when the waiter brings bread to the table and similar moments. That bank becomes a source of inner strength that they can draw on as they work towards their goal. Their victories are his as well. 

“When I was in my 20s I'm pretty sure it was all about me. Probably the majority of the things I did were done to benefit just me,” he says. “There is no comparison to me now in my 50s than when I was in my 20s. I am a much better human being at this age.”

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Owen was photographed in Santa Monica wearing vintage YSL. You can follow Owen and his rescued Chihuahua El Chapo on IG at @owen_mckibbin