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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — About 5,000 runners, many representing their favorite schools, came out for the Big 12 5 and 12 K runs, showing their pride and support for their schools last weekend. But for Derek Mitchell, the race wasn’t about where he went to school, it was about where he is going in life.

“I just knew I had to do something if I had hope for a future or anything like that,” Mitchell said.

Five years ago, 34-year-old Mitchell was diagnosed with a benign tumor on his pituitary gland, which contributed to his 625 pound size. A New Year’s resolution to stop drinking soda has spiraled into a quest to change his life.

“And so I started just walking around in my neighborhood, and I started at a mile and then worked my way up to a little over two miles a day,” Mitchell explained.

Derek Mitchell plans to participate in 10 5Ks in 2015, a run that got started with the Big 12 5K. (Photo: Pat Holloway/WDAF-TV)

He now weighs 570 pounds, logs his exercise on social media and got quite a response from his friends.

“‘Derek was doing all this stuff so we decided we were going out for a walk, too.’ So it’s cool that you can inspire people like that to get up and go out and do things,” he said.

And that inspired Mitchell to go further.

“If I can walk a 5K, anyone can, and I’m living proof of that now,” he said.

Jim Moody was at the finish line, as part of Team Red, White and Blue, which connects veterans to the community through social and physical activities.

“So here comes along Derek, and he was at that finish line, but he just needed a little more help, you could tell he was almost there,” Moody said.

Mitchell said Moody’s inspiring words helped him keep moving forward.

“That’s why I was so excited to see Jim come along, the guy in the red shirt, because he was like, ‘alright, finish strong,’ Mitchell said. “So I booked it as fast as I could.”

Mitchell listens to music while he exercises to distract him from the pain. With Moody cheering him on, he received some additional inspiration.

“I think it’s called ‘Gonna Fly Now’ from the movie Rocky, where he is running up the stairs, that started playing while I was approaching the finish line. And I wanted to cross the finish line with my hands up, because that’s how it felt! It was pretty awesome,” Mitchell said.

He ran his first 5K in an hour-and-a-half and hopes to run nine more this year and knock five minutes off his time, each race.