Last May, I went kayaking with my family. The first kayak they put in the water I didn’t fit into. They had to bring me a bigger one. . .you can imagine the humiliation as I struggled to get out of one tipsy boat and plant my big butt into another. One would think this would have been the breaking point, but over the summer I gained at least ten more pounds. By November, I tipped the scale at 196 pounds and stood 5″1′. I wasn’t sleeping well at night and I was always tired. I was depressed. I suffered from heartburn that my doctor said was caused by morbid obesity. I wasn’t special. I had all the same complaints of any other overweight person. When friends asked me to go out, I would respectfully decline. I certainly didn’t want to be out in public where people could see me. One thing you want to do when you that overweight, ironically, is disappear. My brother is a retired Navy Seal and passionate about physical fitness and a healthy diet. His girlfriend is a Crossfit instructor and equally passionate about good health. After visiting them Halloween weekend in Boston, I came home feeling ashamed. How had I let things get this bad? I immediately signed up for training sessions with Ryan. I had had enough. It was time for a change. Obesity runs in my family and I’m at an age where I felt things were either going to get worse or I could turn it around and choose a different path; a healthier path for the rest of my life. About the time my training sessions with Ryan ran out, the Body Challenge was beginning. This wouldn’t be the first time I had paid a gym at New Years to enter a weight loss competition. But this time was going to be different, and it was. My goal at the most basic level was just to stick with it. I had been through many resolutions before and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I had made in the past. There were habits that needed to change and I had to have the determination and focus to follow through. I remember after the first Saturday workout, I swore I would never do one of them again. I had always worked out alone and much preferred that to group workouts. But, the following Saturday I was there and every Saturday that followed. This time was also different in that there wasn’t a weight or a pant size that I was dying to see. Instead, I focused on “ten pounds more.” The process itself held my attention. On Sunday nights, I packed breakfast, snacks, and lunch for the week. I also packed the supplements. Every night, I would grab the baggies and throw them in my lunch box. I would fill my protein shaker and put them into the fridge. The next morning I could grab and go. No excuses. Packing my gym bag the night before was also essential. I found that it was very difficult to sleep through my alarm clock and skip my morning trip to the gym if everything was packed. Trust me it was NEVER easy. I am NOT a morning person. That damn alarm would go off and I would snooze for at least thirty minutes, if not an hour. The entire time I would literally toss and turn. Stress would climb my neck as I rationalized why sleeping in and working out later would be ok. Then, I would throw back the covers. Grimace as I got out of my bed, because my legs would be killing me from drop set lunges, and I would hobble into the bathroom and get ready for the day. Some of my most emotional and poignant moments were when I struggled to get off the toilet in the morning. These moments will always make me think of Ryan. Nevertheless, I had done it. New habits and expectations were in place. I was succeeding. As I sat at my desk during class, I would log into Anytime Health and record my meals and weight. Some days I even recorded in the journal how I was feeling and what I was struggling against. Wendy’s quarter pounder, fries, and large Dr. Pepper were replaced with home-cooked fish, brown rice, broccoli, and water. My evening meal of Eddy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream and Doritos with cheese melted on them had been replaced by chicken and broccoli. Life had changed a lot and it was showing.

Simultaneously with the Body Challenge, I had entered the Biggest Loser Competition at school. A bunch of teachers were weighing in on Fridays. I was able to more closely monitor my success with this competition as I could see my weight loss versus the other competitors throughout the competition. People at school were noticing. It wasn’t long before they stopped addressing me as Kristi and were instead calling me Skinny Minny. If there is one lesson I learned throughout both of these competitions, it is positive reinforcement makes a world of difference. There was no way I could get a candy bar from the vending machine now. Skinny Minny was going to have to curb the old Large Marge tendencies . . . I ended up winning the competition at school It was rewarding for me to walk into class and tell my students that I had been doing sprints in the gym parking lot at 4:30 in the morning or swimming laps at the rec center before school. I’d tell them about the weights I’d lifted and the pain in my aching muscles. They listened to me munch through my morning Kashi, my carrot stick snacks, and shake my protein bottle to life. They patiently waited as I dashed down the hall to use the facilities because of my water consumption. They were definitely taking this journey with me. One morning, I was getting ready at the gym and throwing on my work clothes for the day when I realized I had made a mistake. The skirt I had packed was clearly too big. I was shocked! I had just worn this skirt the weekend before. I didn’t have any choice but to wear it. During second block with my seniors, I showed them the gap between my new waistline and that of the skirt and they gave me a standing ovation. Totally not kidding. Seniors. On their feet. Smiling and clapping for me. It is a memory I will always carry with me. It is not just the people at school that were noticing the change; people at the gym were complimenting me on my progress as well. Earlier I mentioned my dislike of Saturday morning workouts, well, over the weeks things had changed. I looked forward to seeing Rich and Rob. Leslie and April. Hope and Tammy. Bill and Alex. These were my people. CJ had pointed out during one of the Mt. Trashmore workouts that we were grouping together with our gyms. . .well, of course we were! We weren’t individuals trying to lose weight anymore. We were a group of friends, busting it out in a circle, supporting one another. I can’t begin to express how much they all came to mean to me. If one of them missed a Saturday, the next time I saw them at the gym I would ask them where they were. I expected them to show up. It wasn’t just Saturdays anymore. I came to expect and look forward to seeing them at the gym throughout the week. Ryan had told me in January that I would get to know the people in the competition; that we would get to know one another and work out together. I didn’t believe him. I am glad I was wrong. I have come to firmly believe that my success with the Body Challenge program, with this particular New Year’s resolution, were my fellow competitors and my trainers. Every single one of them played such a large role in my motivation. It hasn’t even been a week since the competition ended and already I miss them. I would be remiss to end my essay without a shout out to Arielle and Ryan. These two were AMAZING! They were a constant source of information and support. No one made me feel guiltier for eating badly than Arielle. I would confide in her that I had fallen off the nutrition wagon and she would demand, “Why did you do that? You’ve been working so hard!” Man, I’d feel ashamed. Her disappointment was enough to get me back on track. Sprinting with her across the gym parking lot before the sunrise and as the sun set, these are the memories that weight loss are made of. . .I can’t thank her enough for all she did for me. And then there was Ryan, poor Ryan. I can assure USA Elite Trainers that he earned every penny over the last four months. I drove him crazy. Both at the gym and after hours over text, Ryan was the backbone of my motivation. He would take light weights out of my hand and replace them with heavier, despite all my complaining. He has had to put up with everything from my wrath to my whining and ALWAYS did it with a smile. Now as I transition out of the competition, he continues to be a good friend and support system. I couldn’t have done any of this without him.

Today as I got ready for school, I threw on a pair of pants. They were too big. I was running late and didn’t bother to change out of them. As I left my bedroom, I thought, “I need to get the 14’s out of my closet.” It wasn’t until later in the day that I realized that I was actually wearing size 12 pants. And so the journey will continue. I will work out and eat well. Hopefully, I will continue to lose. And most importantly, when I go to the gym, I will see my friends.