I was dealing with a lot of health issues when I opened the mailbox and saw the flyer about a new Life Time Fitness center opening in Lenexa, Kan., just down the street from where I lived. I was 48 years old, overweight, prediabetic and suffering from acid reflux and other gastrointestinal problems. Both my parents had type 2 diabetes; my dad died from complications of the disease. I was taking five medications a day for high blood pressure and thyroid issues and constantly going into the hospital for tests. I was sick of being sick all the time.
I attempted to lose weight several times over the years by dieting — the cabbage diet, the South Beach Diet, Weight Watchers — but I always regained the pounds I lost. I tried exercising on a treadmill and elliptical machine and a few resistance machines, but that’s all the gym equipment I’d ever used. I just never stuck with it.
I knew I had to do something to prevent my health from getting worse, so I headed to the gym and signed up. For me, committing to getting healthier was the beginning of something big.
Building My Team
In March 2010, carrying 178 pounds on my 5-foot-4-inch body, I started personal-training sessions with Aaron Bartels, CPT. Together, we focused on lifting weights and building muscle once a week. Soon after, I joined T.E.A.M. Weight Loss with group training coordinator Tricia Corley, a program where we focused mostly on cardio work, nutrition, and using weights as we walked and ran on the treadmill.
It was hard at first. Many times in those first two months I thought, I don’t want to go to the gym. I’ve had a long day at work. I’m just too tired. I don’t think I can get through this workout. But after each session I felt better. That helped fuel my commitment and dedication. Getting moral support from my trainers helped, too.
Three months in, I was down 26 pounds, not quite half the weight I have now lost, and my doctor had taken me off all my medications. It was summer by then, and after 10 years of trying to learn how to water-ski, I was finally able to get up on the water for the first time. It was a truly incredible feeling. My son Chris, who was 17 at the time, said, “OK, Mom, you can water-ski. Now come jump off that 15-foot cliff into the lake with me.”
Until that moment, I had never considered doing something like that. But everything else about me was changing, so why not my sense of adventure, too? I climbed the cliff and we jumped. It was the most rewarding thing I had ever done. Until a few months later, that is, when I realized that my actions were also having a profoundly positive effect on my family.
One day, out of the blue, Chris hugged me and told me he was proud of the changes I had made. I heard my older son, Jeff, bragging to his friends about my improved health and fitness. I was finally setting a healthy example for my kids. And that was more rewarding than anything.
Using Goals to Keep Going
Because the combination of personal training and T.E.A.M. Weight Loss sessions was working so well, I signed up for more. In addition to creating my running routine, Aaron taught me to set goals. He showed me that I needed a plan if I wanted to keep moving forward, get stronger and maintain my weight.
The day after I ran my first 5K, Aaron said, “OK, now you’re going to run a half-marathon in a year.” That’s when it hit me: I could set big goals and accomplish them. I immediately created an action plan to run the half-marathon.
By October 2010, six months after joining the gym, I had lost 58 pounds. Around that time, Aaron moved back to his hometown in Iowa, and I started working with Josh Gibbons, CSCS, CPT, who has worked with me on my strength and running performance. I’ve been setting new goals ever since.
Over the past year and a half, I have run several 5Ks and 10Ks, and I finished my first half-marathon in October 2011. When I passed the 11-mile marker with just 2.1 miles to go, an incredible feeling washed over me. Thanks to Josh’s training and the help of Chris Ullom and my nutrition coach, chiropractor and sports therapist, I wasn’t worn out. I had as much energy at mile 11 as I had at mile two. I finished in two hours and 18 minutes and outran almost 5,700 of 8,000 runners. I couldn’t believe it!
Now, I keep looking for bigger challenges. In addition to running, I’ve competed in both the regional and national Boot Camp Challenges at Life Time, as well as an indoor triathlon. In April and May this year, with Josh’s help, I ran the Heartland 39.3 Series — three half-marathons in four weeks. And I’m getting ready to run my first full marathon in October.
Strong Body, Strong Self
What has surprised me most about getting fit is that I’m able to do — and have done — things I had never imagined. I was never an athlete in high school or college, but at 48 I became one, and I’m in the best shape of my life.
I’ve also discovered that the strength I’ve developed through losing weight, training and building lean muscle is not only making me strong physically. I am a much stronger person mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well.
I’ve been through some difficult things in the last few years, including a divorce, but I now understand that obstacles are stepping stones that help me achieve my goals, and I’ve been able to overcome them to become stronger than ever.
As a result of my newfound confidence, I’ve participated in all kinds of adventurous activities, like jumping off that cliff, spinnaker parasailing, zip lining and rappelling. I even went skydiving for my 50th birthday this spring. I am happier now than I’ve ever been.
I recently discovered an Abraham Lincoln quote that speaks to me: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” I know my life is going to be one big adventure from here on out.
Meet: Kimberly Mills, 50; Shawnee, Kan.; elementary-school reading teacher; mother of two sons, Jeff, 21, and Chris, 18.
Big Achievements: Reclaiming her health by losing nearly 60 pounds; finishing her first half-marathon in 2:18; becoming an athlete.
Big Inspirations: To reclaim her health and get off medications; to show her sons that, with commitment and determination, anything is possible.
What Worked: Setting fitness goals; focusing on body composition.
What Didn’t: Quick-fix diets; focusing on the scale.
Words of Wisdom: “Build a support system at the gym. The trainers are there to push you beyond your comfort level, educate you, and motivate you. Their help, combined with support from my friends, made me stronger in every way possible.”