by Aimee Smith
I’ve always been overweight – graduated high school at 300 pounds and kept going from there. Food was used in my family for all emotions – from celebrations to coping and everything in between. I remember vividly going from one fast food joint to another in search of the perfect meal – burger from one, fries from another. Talk about unhealthy! I met my husband (who is not overweight) in 1996. We dated for a few years prior to marriage. Our wedding was December 18, 1999. I went to Weight Watchers right after our honeymoon and was shocked to find out I weighed 427.1 pounds. I sat and cried as I had no clue I had gotten that big – those are pretty big numbers.
I stayed with the program losing about 50 pounds or so and decided to go it alone – not realizing that I truly wasn’t ready to make the lifestyle changes needed to eat healthy and exercise completely. We had our first child in January 2002 – and I weighed 417 on delivery day – so I once again decided it was time to get very serious about my health. I ended up losing almost 100 pounds on my own. Got down to 319 and remained there for quite some time. I was walking every day and eating what I thought was good food. I still consumed a lot of processed foods and didn’t learn that lesson for quite years to come.
We decided to try for our second child in late 2007. While I was 8 months pregnant, we moved from our starter home to one that had 3 bathrooms (a very big deal to me!). We lived in the house for 2 weeks before I was placed on bed rest due to high blood pressure. I felt fine, so I was very confused as to why I had to be in bed all the time. Needless to say, the birth of our second child was truly the catalyst of change in our lives. I ended up having a C-section as she wasn’t progressing down the canal without heartbeat issues. Because I was large and carried most of my weight in my abdomen, the OBGYN cut me vertically instead of horizontally. Because of this, it wasn’t two weeks later that my wound ripped open and got infected. To heal a wound, you need to do so from the inside out-thus a wound vacuum was place on my abdomen. I wore that darned thing for 4 ½ months – it smelled, hurt and got infected a few times. I knew all of my problems were due to my weight problems.
Before my mother died in 2005, I had researched weight loss surgery and thought that was the ticket for me – it truly seemed like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I was denied at that time from our insurance, but was excited when our plans changed in 2008. In 2009, I went through the program at our local clinic and had gastric bypass in April 2010 at the weight of 376. I had started the program at 412 pounds, so a loss of even a bit was all the better for my surgeons. Once again because I carried my weight in my abdomen, I never knew I had a hernia. I was sent home from my gastric bypass on Friday with the promise that we would go back to fix the hernia once I lost more weight. Well, my body had other plans. My new remnant stomach wrapped around the hernia and it almost exploded in my system. This would have been very bad – I ended up back in the hospital on Monday with my hernia repair on Tuesday.
I always knew that exercise would be key to my success. I wasn’t allowed to exercise until July 2010 due to the hernia and muscle repair. I started small with a group strength training class at my local YMCA. I weighed 330 pounds that day – I knew I was so out of shape, so I didn’t place any weight on the bar – just did the moves with the bar. I was so sore, I couldn’t sit for days! I began to wonder what else I could accomplish – I call this the wakening!
I did a couch to 5K plan from the internet and ran/walked my first 5k. I did ok, from a standpoint of a sedentary person. My local running store then offered an official 5k class, so I enrolled. I met the most wonderful people in this class – it turns out no matter your speed, you are a runner! Who knew? I had such a great time in this class, that when they offered it again, I signed right up. I began to realize that running was fun and enjoyable – I never anticipated those words!
I also completed a 10k, through the same format. It was about this time that I decided the person who was training us would become my coach. I got along nicely with her and her training style was one which I could grow from her great skills. I began to think – what else is there to do? I moved on to training for a ½ marathon – which I did in May 2012. The most miserable day – cold and rainy in the early part and I was just in pain for most of the run. I was still about 240 pounds – so not too shabby for a finishing time of 3:01:48 for 13.1 miles. I was pretty proud of that – never in a million years would I have envisioned the enjoyment from running!
In the 10k class, I met a person who has become a great friend – she’s a big dreamer and we have children in the same age groups. I’ve been isolated so many years that I forgot how to dream big. She’s the person who said to me that we were going to do triathlons. Mind you, I had no clue what that involved, but decided to go with it as it couldn’t be hard, right? I had never learned to swim – and thought my coach would be a great teacher. Little did she know that putting my face in the water the first day caused me to panic. It was with her great patience that I learned in our local pool how to swim. I then progressed from the pool to open water swim classes held with a larger group. Talk about feeling like a minnow in a sea of sharks! The rest of the group were all Ironman or in training for such. I could barely float – and did just that for a few classes. The coaches were all extremely patient and understanding that each person learns in their own manner. For that alone I will be forever grateful. I can look back and laugh about floating, but it was a comfort level issue for me.
I bought a good road bike in March 2012 and as soon as WI warmed up, started riding my bike outside. Once I got on my bike, I remembered the freedom of the many summers of my youth. It felt awesome to ride again and I totally enjoyed it. My coach taught me proper shifting techniques and I loved doing the hills around our house. I even fell a few times and it wasn’t too terribly painful. My first triathlon was July 2012 and consisted of a ½ mile swim, 14 mile bike ride and finishing with a 3.1 mile run. July in Wisconsin is not generally known for being nice for weather. It was very hot and humid – I had only trained with my wetsuit until that point, and my last minute decision was to drop it – I knew I would have problems wearing it in the heat. I swam the slowest swim in the history of the event – 33 minutes! I then got onto my favorite part and decided to chase down everyone I could see. That’s exactly what I did – no one passed me on the bike and even though it was very hilly for our area, I had a great bike time.
The run became more challenging for me due to the heat and humidity. I decided early on that I would be walking most of the route. This race was in my home town and I knew most of the volunteers so I had an excuse to stop and chat a bit on the route – much to the chagrin of my coach. I had such a blast from this first triathlon that I knew there would be more in my future. I had already started training for my 2nd ½ marathon in September 2012, so I knew doing another sprint wouldn’t be out of the question. By the time my 2nd came around I had made friends with the open water and my swim of 12:38 for a 400M, was a bit more competitive. I still had a great bike time and even logged my personal record on the 5k. It was an awesome day!
I knew my season ending ½ marathon would be tough – it’s all about the hills. When I met with my coach early in the year – I told her that I doubted I could ever beat my first time as that was flat and this was really hilly. She told me at the time that you never know. I so need to listen more to her! I messed around at the start line and probably posed for more pictures than I should, but still ended up taking off 6 minutes from my earlier ½ marathon. I was even last for most of the time and had the best time – my very own police escort and bike escort. It was truly a special day. I have met many great friends throughout all of this training – I have some great running friends and a great triathlon training partner. It’s odd how we have kids roughly the same ages. My running bud has a daughter right around the age of my youngest and my tri partner has twins the same ages as my oldest. Karma working out!
I met with my tri partner to plan our races for 2013 and was totally surprised, dare I say shocked, when she said we were going to do a ½ IM. Um, you do remember that I just learned to swim, right? First email was to coach and she knew all about it and was fine with our plans. Thus for 2013, I’m currently training for a full marathon and have 2 sprint triathlons, 2 Olympic triathlons and one ½ IM on the calendar. I may never Boston qualify, but I’m now in it to see where my new body can take me. As of this writing, I’m down to roughly 200 pounds. That’s a total loss of 227 pounds – very surreal for many! I have learned proper nutrition through my coach and enjoy eating whole foods with my family.
I think the best change I have noticed is that my kids love the farmer’s market. They are able to point out vegetables that were foreign to our home just a year ago and they now ask if Mommy’s swimming, biking or running. Sometimes the answer is just “yes”, but many times I’ll let them know what I am doing during my training. I am now truly driven to see what it is that I can do…where are the limits? I have an ultimate goal of doing IM WI by 2017 – I so will be an IM by the time I’m 50. Not too shabby for someone who wasn’t sure she was going to live that long.
I’ve gone public with my story to show people that it’s never too late – if you woke up today, you have been given another chance to get it right. Fix your eating and start an exercise plan – if you do, you can accomplish many goals. We are each given a set amount of time; don’t waste it on unnecessary garbage. Free yourself from your past and learn to love yourself going forward. Each day truly is a gift and I intend to live each minute to its fullest. My legacy to my children will be just that – live every one of your 1,440 minutes daily with no regrets – follow your passions and carry them forward.