Friends provide support, strength as each loses more than 110 pounds

THE OLYMPIANJanuary 15, 2012 

After years of being out of shape, Renea Atwood and Leslie Kilbourne discovered the key to getting fit: each other.

After repeatedly failing to lose weight, the Tenino moms in November 2009 were tipping the scale at more than 275 pounds each. Today they’ve each lost more than 110 pounds and are on their way to becoming weight loss royalty.

“I could not lose weight without Renea,” Kilbourne said.

And Atwood says the same about her friend who woke up at 4 every morning to exercise with her.

They are proof, or at least a very compelling Exhibit A, that fitness is easier to attain if you have a reliable workout partner: somebody to push you when you want to loaf, motivate you when you want to skip a workout and slap you when you are craving churros.

“You can always quit on yourself,” Atwood said, “but it’s not so easy to quit on a partner.”

As moms of Tenino High School cheerleaders, Atwood, 42, and Kilbourne, 43, spent hours together every week. Kilbourne weighed 282 pounds and wore men’s shirts because shopping was too humiliating. Atwood weighed 278 pounds, but was in denial.

“I always thought I looked thin,” she said.

In 2009, listening to a patient at a physical therapy clinic where she worked, Atwood decided she was going to try joining a weight loss support group in Chehalis called TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). She knew the journey was going to be tough so she asked Kilbourne to join her.

Two years later, the slimmed down friends were on the cover of the club’s international newsletter, “TOPS News,” bestowing the importance of having a workout partner.

“I strongly suggest you find a partner, someone who pushes you and allows you to pull them,” Atwood wrote in the issue. “… You need someone to cry with, laugh with and give those high fives to. Sometimes, we think no one knows what we are going through or could possibly understand. But, if you have a partner to talk to, you will realize we are all going through the same thing.”

The friends worked out together every day and helped each other stick to a healthier, lower-calorie diet. They helped each other conquer their demons.

For Atwood that meant creeping out of her state of denial. A picture snapped at her first TOPS meeting allowed her look back as the pounds melted away and see how out of shape she really was.

For Kilbourne, that meant no longer giving into the cravings that led to what she calls a “body by Taco Bell.”

There was definitely sacrifice, but they made it fun for each other, they said.

One of the biggest sacrifices was getting up at 4 a.m. every day. It was the only time Atwood could exercise so Kilbourne agreed to set her alarm clock too.

“Why wouldn’t I get up at 4 a.m. for the friend who is the first partner who has ever helped me lose weight,” Kilbourne said. “I was dying. So why not wake up at 4 a.m. for the person who was helping me live again.”

They celebrated every milestone – being able to cross their legs again, being able to bend over to tie their shoes, fitting through the turnstiles at sporting events, finishing a half marathon – with high-fives and by shouting their battle cry, “We Rock.”

In 2010 Kilbourne won first place in a statewide TOPS weight loss contest. Atwood was second. They might have even won one of TOPS highest honors – weight loss queen and princess – but in order to qualify they are required to reach their goals.

Today, Atwood is down 113 pounds to 165 pounds. Her goal is to weigh 155. Kilbourne is down 118 pounds to 164 pounds. She wants to lose 24 more pounds.

If they lose that weight in 2012 they’ll be eligible for the TOPS crowns in 2013.

They figure they’ve got an excellent chance as long as they have each other to lean on.

Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments via craig.hill@ thenewstribune.com, facebook.com/adventureguys or twitter.com/adventureguys. Get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure or thenewstribune.com/fitness.

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