Health & Fitness

302 pounds lighter, teacher meets Oprah

Whether she’s walking, teaching or doing housework, Wendy McConkey loves her new streamlined body.

“I feel like the Tasmanian Devil whirling around,” said the 38-year-old kindergarten teacher from Fircrest. “Moving around isn’t as taxing for me anymore.”

That wasn’t the case in 2006, when McConkey, because of poor eating habits and inactivity, weighed 449.6 pounds and couldn’t even walk without pain.

After 51/2 years of exercise and diet, she has lost 302 pounds, a transformation so impressive it caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey.

McConkey will be on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” today. She will be among 100 people honored for losing 100 pounds or more.

“I’m a third of what I used to be,” said McConkey, who teaches at Tacoma’s DeLong Elementary School. “I have a spring in my step now.”

McConkey was not interviewed by Winfrey on the show but appears in a shot of the audience in which people hold up an old item of clothing, then drop it to reveal their new bodies.

Still, McConkey says it was an honor to be a part of the show.

She posed for a group photo with Winfrey but said the experience was a little chaotic because President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were shooting a show with Winfrey the same day.

“You could tell the staff was preoccupied.” McConkey said.

She spent four days in Chicago with her mom while attending the show. McConkey says her mom, the rest of her family and her friends were immensely supportive during her challenging journey.

“It was hard, but I knew I had to do something because I was on my way to being bedridden,” she said.

McConkey, a high school softball player, said her bad eating habits started in high school. Even though her mother cooked healthful food, she sneaked unhealthy meals.

“Going away to college meant that I no longer had to sneak the food, but it also meant I had free rein in the cafeteria and going out for fast food,” McConkey said.

“I saw other kids eating the same late night pizzas and tacos but without softball to keep it off, the weight came on very quickly. I probably gained about 25 pounds each year I was in school.”

After college she tried several times to lose weight, but “I never really got that it needed to be a lifestyle change in order for the weight to all come off, and to stay off.”

“I was in a huge state of denial about how large I was really getting,” she said. “If my clothes didn’t fit, I’d just buy more. There was a disconnection there.”

Eventually McConkey had to shop on-line because many plus-size stores didn’t carry her sizes. She wore 7-extra-large tops and size 38 pants. She only found plus-size stores that carried up to 6-extra-large tops and size 28 pants.

To slim down, she started by joining Weight Watchers and going on walks. As the weight started to come off it became easier for her to walk and by 2007 she joined the YMCA, where she began taking fitness and body-sculpting classes.

Her favorite class was Zumba, a Latin dance workout she now teaches. She says she will continue to do Zumba and Weight Watchers to stay in shape.

While the side effect of losing so much weight is loose skin, it’s a skin McConkey is comfortable in.

“It bugs me sometimes,” she said, “but it is so much better than the alternative. Loose skin doesn’t lead to heart disease and other illnesses.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497