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How I Went From Morbidly Obese to Marathon Runner

With my running buddies cheering me on and help from my surgeon, I dropped 70 pounds in six months. My confidence and strength have grown with every step of this incredible journey.

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A photo of a woman running down a bridge at sunrise.
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“Girl, you’re so in love with yourself! Imagine if you weren’t fat!”

As a plump grade schooler that was the backhanded compliment adults often gave me. Because although I’ve never been thin, I’ve always been confident in the spotlight, whether in the school play back then or at grown folks’ parties as an adult.

But over the decades, my weight creeped upward. In my 20s and for most of my 30s, I ate whatever I wanted. Before I started running in my late 30s, shopping was my only cardio. By my early 40s I’d gone from pleasantly plump to morbidly obese, according to BMI charts. I was a size 16/18 at only 4 feet 9 inches tall. My inner sense that I was beautiful and lovable just as I was started to slip away.

During a business trip, it all but disappeared. I was packing for a TV shoot in Puerto Rico, frustrated because I couldn’t find clothes that wouldn’t expose my upper arms or cling to my stomach. I cobbled some outfits together, but when I saw footage of myself, I was mortified. My eyes seemed lost in my face. My arms looked like mini-hams. Shapewear couldn’t conceal my tummy rolls. I didn’t recognize the body I saw on the screen. Truth is, I’d been feeling uncomfortable for a year.

I no longer felt in control. My running regimen hadn’t helped me shed much weight. I’d tried weight-loss programs, only to regain additional pounds. I feared that without intervention, I’d put myself at risk for the diabetes and high blood pressure that runs in my family. My career was going well, I was recently married and life in general was good. Yet my weight was holding me back from fully enjoying it.

I made a radical decision — one that, when I informed close friends, they found hard to understand. After months of research, I decided to have gastric surgery. My doctors reassured me that, though I had less weight to lose than the 100-plus pounds of the typical patient, this wasn’t about vanity but about my long-term health.

My friends, however, viewed weight-loss surgery as an option for people who are huge and housebound, not their outgoing and fashionable friend. But when I shared how deeply unhappy I was, they rallied around. One came with me to my pre-op appointments. After surgery, another accompanied me as I shuffled down hospital corridors with my IV.

My procedure, vertical sleeve gastrectomy or sleeve gastrectomy, involved removing part of the stomach, leaving a tube-shaped sleeve. My new tiny stomach pouch can hold a few ounces of food or liquid at a time. For several months, until my stomach healed, I existed on a liquid diet. My nutritionist nixed alcohol for one year, and I gave up carbonated drinks, which made me feel bloated. I lost 70 pounds in about six months, and at my lowest weight I wore a size two.

The results were dramatic. My life started to change in a big way — but for a second reason.

My surgeon said my regular jogs were probably why I didn’t have diabetes or high blood pressure. Exercise had also helped me feel better — up until that Puerto Rico trip — about my body and myself. Back when I was larger, my thighs rubbed and my lower back ached when I ran. But I always loved the way I felt afterward: strong, clear-headed and capable. I had been running 5K races, finishing slowly. And to mark my 40th birthday in 2006, I completed my first half-marathon, at the back of the pack, but getting my finisher’s medal.

So post-surgery, when running became easier, I felt I’d been given a gift. I cried the morning I ran five miles without walk breaks. My thighs no longer chafed. As I exercised more, I saw my body as a wonderfully made machine that, if treated with love, care and respect, could do more than I’d thought.

I stopped caring how it looked to others. My goals shifted toward reaching fitness milestones rather than maintaining a dress size. In 2012, I ran another half-marathon, finishing in two hours and 12 minutes, proudly dressed in bright colors and a tutu (I’m still a fashionista!). And at 47, I finished my first marathon.

Now I work out five times a week, rotating runs, powerlifting and interval training. I’m an ambassador for the fitness brand, Athleta, excited to inspire other women and let them know that it’s never too late to start moving!

Seven years after surgery, I’m a size four. My tummy is squishy and my biceps have a layer of fat. But that doesn’t stop me from running in just my sports bra. I owe my 248-pound deadlift to that strong-but-squishy core and those meaty arms, and they deserve to be shown off! I proudly wear short shorts because my thick legs can run a mile in under 10 minutes. I’ve regained my confidence and then some.