One day in November 2013, Marisa Smith found herself crying at her desk.
“I was completely depressed with my appearance,” said Smith, who weighed 344 pounds. “I was 24 years old with a great job and amazing boyfriend. I had everything going right for me, but I wasn’t happy. I hated the way I looked, and I felt like if I continued the way I was going, I wouldn’t have a future for very long.”
She resolved to turn around her life. That same day she sent an email to Tumwater’s Fit Life Studio asking for help.
Today, Smith — now 55 pounds lighter — is part of Fit Life’s running club participating in Sunday morning’s (May 21) Capital City Marathon. The runners in this group have lost weight and improved their health while training for the 5-miler, half marathon or marathon.
They also used their training to raise money for the young family of Austin Kelley, a 26-year-old Olympia man who died last year while swimming in Idaho’s Salmon River.
All of the participants made impressive strides, said Tessa Effland, Fit Life’s owner, and all have inspiring stories. We tracked down seven of the pound-shedding runners to hear a little more about their journeys:
44, Olympia, state employee.
Weight loss: 25 pounds in four months.
To lose weight, Bolender had to force herself to eat more.
“Based on the amount of exercise I was doing, I was not eating enough, and my metabolism was shutting down,” she said.
When she saw the eating plan Effland provided, Bolender thought, “there is no way I can eat all this food.”
Three meals and two snacks (apples and peanut butter are her favorite) were more than she’d normally eat. She couldn’t rely on hunger to remind her to eat, so she set alarms on her phone.
It has paid off. Not only has Bolender lost weight, but her training went so well she switched her plans to running the marathon instead of the half.
“I feel so much better inside and out,” Bolender said. “I have a sense of relief knowing what I need to eat to maintain my weight. I thought I was eating healthy before, but Tessa helped me understand why my food choices were not working for my body and what I should be eating instead, including increasing my food intake.”
27, Olympia, administrative specialist.
Weight lost: 21.5 pounds since 2015.
Courtney never thought of himself as a runner, but he always wanted to finish a marathon.
“When I first started working out, I could barely run a mile without being winded and getting sick,” Courtney said. He said that changed once he joined the Fit Life’s running group and learned to train properly.
The key to Courtney’s success was snapping out of a cycle of self-sabotage. In the past, he’d celebrate weight loss with beer, junk food and skipping workouts. The weight returned. He said he was limited by doubt.
“For me the hardest habit to break is settling,” Courtney said. “… It has been a hard habit to break, but in all honesty what has helped me is hitting rock bottom a couple times and finally realizing that I won’t get the results I want if I keep falling into the same patterns every week. Taking two steps forward and three steps back won’t get you anywhere very quickly.”
During training, Courtney says, Effland called him out for making excuses. Now, he refuses to let them get in his way.
“There is no one giant step that does it. It’s a lot of little steps,” Courtney said. “I don’t care if I have to crawl across the finish line, I’m crossing that damn finish line.”
60, Tumwater, human resources.
Distance: Half marathon.
Weight lost: More than 100 pounds since 2006.
Dale had been losing weight for a decade before her 59th birthday, but as 60 loomed she wanted to get healthier.
Her goal was to weigh less than 200 pounds by her 60th birthday.
“I watched my daughters grieve when they lost their dad too soon, and I didn’t want that to happen to me,” Dale said. “I also have seven grandkids. I wanted to be around a long time to enjoy them.”
For more than half of her life, Dale weighed more than 200 pounds, but she hit her goal the week of her birthday. “And I’m stilling losing,” she said.
It’s been a challenge to stop eating after 6:30 p.m., reduce portions, eat more veggies and work out each morning at 5:30, but it’s been worth the work.
“I love the new me,” Dale said. “I feel so much better, and I hope that others out there who are struggling with too much weight will be inspired by my journey.”
44, Tumwater, meat wrapper.
Distance: Half marathon.
Weight lost: 70 pounds over 18 months.
Sunday will be Randall’s third Capital City Half Marathon in four years, but she said she still struggles with keeping motivated. She said the Fit Life running group has helped her overcome this obstacle.
“Working out at Fit Life and developing the strong friendships I have with the people there has helped to hold me accountable,” Randall said. “I will get calls or texts to remind me to go work out. … Nothing helps you stay focused more than seven or so people holding you accountable.”
Randall said she feels unstoppable and enjoys the challenge of the half marathon. She calls finishing her first half marathon one of the biggest moments of her life.
And after losing 70 pounds in 1 1/2 years, she says, “I feel proud of myself and how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am, heath-wise. It’s a constant struggle but one that is well worth it.”
38, Rochester, state employee.
Weight lost: 45 pounds in four years.
Tired of struggling with anxiety, a bad diet, fatigue, ulcers and mood swings, Reilly chose to reclaim her health.
“Doctors had always recommended regular exercise, and I’d try for a couple weeks and then give up because I didn’t feel a difference,” Reilly said.
Last year, she joined Fit Life and started to develop goals. Weight loss was never a goal. “I highly reject society’s ideals and pressures around what women’s bodies should look like,” she said. “For me, keeping my focus on accomplishing hard things, lifting heavy weights and being able to do exercises I never thought I could kept me in a positive mental place.”
Her anxiety improved, she developed a nutrition plan with Effland and now “I am smashing one strength goal after another.”
“Now, I look back and see that my entire life was lived in a semi-depressed, anxiety-ridden, low self-esteem state,” Reilly said. “Even what I remember as the ‘good times’ don’t come close to how great I feel every single day.”
34, Lacey, patient service representative.
Weight lost: 91 pounds in four years.
Four years ago, Seiber weighed 265 pounds and started working toward better health.
Along the way, she had trouble dropping her weight below 220 pounds. At Fit Life she learned proper eating and exercise habits. Even as she dropped below 220, she was certain she’d never hit 209 pounds.
Then she did, and “at that point I had the confidence and really started to believe that I can in fact do this weight loss thing,” Seiber said.
Now, Seiber, who describes herself as “perfectly imperfect,” weighs less than 175 pounds.
“I feel more confident in what I’m able to accomplish,” she said. ”With each pound I lost over my journey I found myself putting myself out there, joining in on more adventures and runs. I’m truly living life to its fullest now and loving every moment of it.”
28, Olympia, renewal specialist.
Distance: Half marathon.
Weight lost: 55 pounds in 3 1/2 years.
“She believed she could, so she did.”
The quote resonates with Smith and is inspiring her to run and get healthier.
Three and half years ago, she weighed 344 pounds and decided changes needed to be made.
Smith said she struggles with an emotional connection to food. Stress, anger, unhappiness and boredom lead her to eat. Now, she instead turns to water, talking to others, exercise, walking and reading.
She’s lost 55 pounds and said being healthier changes the way she perceives herself. “I am doing things I didn’t think my body was capable of doing,” she said. “I feel so much better, stronger physically and mentally. I have more hope, confidence and joy than I had before.
“… If I was still the same girl, over 300 lbs, I don’t think I would be having the life I have now.”
And she expects it will keep getting better. “As long as I can keep believing I can do it,” she said, “I will.”