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Article updated: 5/16/2013 7:14 PM

Determined Fittest Loser participant turns life around

By Melynda Findlay

On a recent day off from work, I accidentally walked 12 miles.

You read that right: 12 miles. Accidentally.

I had some errands to run; when I returned home, the weather was gorgeous and I couldn't resist taking some laps around the neighborhood. Bam! Twelve miles. The weird thing was that it felt almost effortless. I felt energized, not exhausted.

It's a far cry from where I started the Fittest Loser journey a little more than three months ago.

I had barely started my first workout at Push Fitness before I started trying to think of a completely valid excuse to never do another one.

I couldn't go very fast on the treadmill or do any push-ups or sit-ups, plus I was out of breath and man, did my knees hurt. There's no way I can do this for 12 weeks, I thought to myself. Who was I kidding, trying to follow along with the contestants? I was 44 years old, weighed 249 pounds and not all that far removed from my pack-a-day smoking habit. I spent my days off sleeping as much as possible and catching up on TV -- not walking 12 miles or doing anything else active.

Plus, I was pretty sure I couldn't survive three hours -- let alone (gasp!) three months -- without eating pasta, pizza and grilled cheese.

But while I completely doubted my ability to get through this program, my trainer -- Push Fitness owner Joshua Steckler -- apparently didn't doubt me a bit.

"You're going to walk out of here feeling defeated and torn down," Josh told me that first day. "Don't let yourself get discouraged. You have to use that as fuel and work harder."

I wasn't convinced, but if this guy who had known me for all of about an hour believed in me, maybe I could do this.

Well, a little more than three months later, I can now tell you that Josh was right. Not only did I survive the program -- including the 7 a.m. boot camps every Saturday -- I also lost 45 pounds, can do sit-ups and push-ups and learned a whole new way of eating that has virtually eliminated my lifelong stomach problems.

It wasn't easy. I stumbled a few times along the way. Sometimes, I literally stumbled. I'm pretty clumsy, especially when it comes to anything remotely athletic. More often than not, though, it was a metaphorical stumble. I occasionally skipped cardio workouts. I sometimes ate things I shouldn't have or I ate too much.

What I didn't do, though, was quit. Because while the most important lesson I learned was "Yes! I can do this!" -- the other important take-away was that you can't fail in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle unless you quit trying.

And now, a couple of weeks out from the end of the Fittest Loser, I still haven't quit. I still exercise daily and keep track of what I eat. I'm still stumbling a little here and there, but I just keep going.

I know I'll never be a great athlete, and that's perfectly OK -- it was never my goal. My main motivation for doing this was to be healthier, and I'm already well on my way.

Melynda Findlay is a member of the night copy desk at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 14 years. She lives in Arlington Heights and plans to have a lot more accidental 12-mile walks.

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