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We Will Always Have Disney Paris

… We will always have Paris!

There is a famous line from a famous movie of which I have never seen: “We’ll always have Paris.” From what I understand it’s a line used in parting as the lead character realizes that the end of their romance is over and he fondly consoles her by reminding her that they will always have good memories.

Obviously since I am quoting this movie, I will have to actually take the time to watch it. This might be a painful experience for me. I am not really big on 1942 black and white movies and no matter how good you tell me it is, I’m going to ask you why you need me to go back and relive the past. However, I can hardly use that as an excuse when that is what I am about to do here today.

Writing a memoir of my good memories and being pressured into watching movies that were made back when we lacked the technology of bright colors and high-definition picture are two very different things. Right? If you feel me here let me know.

I digress. The point here is that I have this amazing experience from my recent trip to Paris to share with you. My photos from it, unlike Casablanca, are in color, so in my mind that makes this entire blog a reasonable time expenditure from my normally busy day.

I’ve already written a very detailed account of my Paris trip that will be posted on The Bari Blog in the near future. I’ll spare you the details that will be given there and instead share the emotional side of my Paris adventure with you.

The emotional reactions that we have to things are unexplainable sometimes. As an example, I really thought that when I crossed the finish line of my first full marathon and completed the Dopey Challenge during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend this last January I would break down in tears of joy at what would be a monumental accomplishment in both my fitness and weight loss journey. I didn’t though. I felt accomplished. I was extremely proud of myself, but there wasn’t an overwhelming emotional reaction to it.

Honestly, I haven’t had that sort of raw emotionally overwhelming reaction to completing a half marathon since the first one I ran in honor of my father on Father’s Day back in June of 2013.  I’ve ran a few half marathons since then and while each and every one of them gives me that amazing sense of accomplishment and allows me to experience that all-so-often talked about ‘runner’s high’, none of them had quite touched my heart as emotionally and as deeply as that first one had.

Every run brings with it a different experience. Sometimes the joy I get from participating in a half marathon event is rewarding to me because I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of being next to someone who I have helped achieve the accomplishment of crossing their first finish line. Typically that is one of the biggest motivators and emotionally rewarding experiences there is for me.

Sometimes it’s the simple joy of running next to one of my dear friends. I run with one of my best friends quite often and every time we run together I think of how blessed I am to have a friend that enjoys the half marathon craze the same way I do.

Paris was different. Paris had an emotional charge to it that I am not really sure I can explain, but I am going to try….

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Welcome to Disneyland Paris RunDisney 2016

When the opportunity to do this event came knocking on my door I knew it was a once in a lifetime chance that I couldn’t pass up. It was an opportunity I knew without a doubt my Father would want me to take. Unlike my previously sponsored runs, this one wasn’t about me taking someone else with me to have their first half marathon experience, it was about me going to France to represent the Bariatric Community and share that experience with everyone and that meant a lot to me.

I honestly believe that when it comes to fighting obesity we can achieve anything through determination, hard work and courage. I think those are three of the fundamental necessities of recovering from obesity.

Recovery from obesity is not a simple process. You have to be willing to keep fighting even when it gets hard. You have to be willing to make big life changes that are not always comfortable, fun, or easy.

You have to have the courage to face whatever is going on in your life on an emotional, mental and physiological level that has driven you into the depths of obesity.

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August of 2009 at Disneyland in California at my highest recorded weight of over 420 lb.

You have to be willing to triumph over plateaus that make you want to pull your hair out. You have to be willing to eat healthy when your emotions are on overdrive and all you really want is comfort food. You have to be willing to rally yourself against the social pressures of using food as method of having relationships with people. You have to be willing to exercise even on those days that it’s hard to talk yourself out of bed.

The fight against obesity is a battle where bluntly often only the strongest thrive.

And yet, each and every one of us possesses that strength. Each and every one of us has it in us. We just find it at different times in our lives and at different points of our journeys. I’m a prime example of this. I didn’t beat obesity the first time I fought it. Heck I didn’t even beat it the third or fourth time I fought it. I tried and tried and I feel on my face time and time again.

In fact if there was a big boss to fight at the end of a video game and it was named Obesity I would have probably thrown the game controller at the television screaming in a temper tantrum that it was too damn hard.

Once I came so close that I lost nearly 200 lb. and weighed the lowest I had ever weighed in my adult life. Then I gained every single pound back and had that entire journey to have to do all over again.

 

But my inherent belief that if I can do this, anyone can do this was exactly what was driving me to be at the start line in Paris. That message is the one that I feel the most obligation to convey to my community.

I’d been to Paris before, as an overweight teenager. If you’d asked me to run twenty-one kilometers while I was there I would have told you that I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t at a point that I was ready because we all arrive at that juncture at a different time.

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My dearly missed friend Joy Muller and I where we first met at the Inaugural OAC Your Weight Matters Convention in 2012

There was another big emotional drive for me in Paris. Several months ago I lost one of my dearest friends. A fellow bariatric patient, and someone whose presence in my life had made a substantial change in my direction. A mental health practitioner by trade, without ever really being asked to, she had assisted me in my pursuit of chasing happy after I had accomplished healthy. A fellow runner and fellow Disney fanatic, she had been a monumental person in my life. Joy was one of my true “ride or dies”. In fact, back at that first half marathon I ran, when I hit my wall and I wasn’t sure I could do it, she had been the one I called, in tears, looking for words of encouragement and motivation.

Finding out that I was going to be running in Paris had been a sudden thing. The opportunity first presented itself when I was in California at the TinkerBell Half Marathon and my friend Jess offered me a place to rest my head if I could figure out how to get myself there. I flew home from that trip and in a two-day turnaround headed out to Nashville to attend the WLSFA Annual Meet and Greet event. It was at that event that I had spoken to the folks at BariLife and knew that I’d be going to Paris for this run. Though that information wasn’t public yet, when I got home the following Monday, Joy was one of the first people who I called to tell it. I knew that as a fellow Disney maniac and someone who had been a pillar in my world, she was going to be super excited for me.

Five short days later on May 21st, when Joy passed away, I felt a grief I hadn’t felt since my father had left the world. It had taken my breath away. It took everything I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Now here I was in Paris, getting ready to run the event that we had talked about over and over again in the days before she had crossed life’s finish line and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Joy was going to be with me for each and every kilometer of that 21 kilometer run.

I feel the presence of those I have lost when I run. It’s something I cannot describe or give a real world explanation to. This half marathon had a double dose of that going on for me because I just knew the whole way through that Joy and my Dad where up there cheering for me.

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The Facebook photo posted by my friends the morning of my Half Marathon prompted the most emotionally filled start line of my running career.

And then there was you. The Bariatric Community and the amazing friends and family that I have within it…

When I woke up Sunday morning and grabbed my phone to rush out the door for the start line I noticed that there was an unusual number of posts on Facebook that I had been tagged in. I wondered what the heck was going on.

When I opened my Facebook app to investigate it, I was literally overwhelmed with emotion. My Facebook timeline was filled with posts of my before and after photo with a caption that said “Thank you Pandora, 260+ pounds lost, 32 Half Marathons, Inspiring Thousands” – Many of the posts included personal comments from people in the community thanking me for what I have done to try to motivate and inspire others as well as offering me words of encouragement for the event.

Tears fell down my face in what was without a doubt the most emotionally charged start line experience of my running career. Even now as I write this my eyes are watering.

I am unsure that words can convey the emotions that ran through me. There was a moment in this journey after I had lost my weight where I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to help other people fight obesity through fitness. When you make a decision like that, you do it because you want to help others. When the people who you want to help and that you care so much about do something like this, without you knowing that it is coming, it lets you know that what you are doing really is making a difference.

I felt something I can’t really say that I have ever truly felt in such a towering way. I felt recognized. I felt relevant. I felt appreciated. As I kept seeing my before and after photo with the words “Thank you” written on it, I kept wiping the tears from cheeks, and all I could do was hold my hand over my heart, try to catch my breath and keep whispering to myself “No, thank you.”

RunDisney uses the slogan “Every Mile is Magical” for all of their events. While I have enjoyed each and every RunDisney event I have done, they are by far my favorite half marathons, this run – this particular event – was by far the most magical run I have ever experienced. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was running through Disneyland Paris theme parks, it had to do with the fact that I had overwhelming sense of love and happiness right there in my heart every step of the way.

 

At the start line I vowed that I would do nothing but enjoy every moment of this experience. I stopped for any photo I wanted to take. I took moments to stop and appreciate every little thing that caught my eye and capture it to share with those that had touched my heart so much. There was never a wall where I was running out of steam or where I worried about reaching the finish line. There wasn’t a moment that I had to push. Every single mile was pure joy. This was by far the most beautiful, magical and emotionally rewarding run of my career.

Every moment of running through the Disney theme parks, running through the residential streets surrounding it, running through European countryside, cornfields, seeing castles off in the distance, every kilometer marker, every Disney character standing on the side of the course, every marching band and group of cheerleaders, each one was viewed with an appreciation and emotion I have never experienced during a run before. It was magic. Pure magic. And I had all the most important people in my life in my heart sharing it with me with every little rapid beat as I ran.

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An emotional moment  just after crossing the finish line of the Inaugural Disneyland Paris Val d Europe Half Marathon

Leading into this run I had concerns. I’d flared up my achilles tendonitis really bad trying to switch over to new running shoes and I was having to take extra special care and precautions to try to ensure that my ankles were not hurting too much to be able to run on them. Just a couple of weeks prior I’d had the experience of having to walk the last three miles of an event I was running because the pain in my ankles would not allow me to run. Yet on this day, on this run, for 21 full kilometers my ankles never once complained. All my worry and fears were gone and the only thing I felt was this overwhelming sense of love, appreciation, and closeness to those that mattered most to me.

If you had told that overweight teenager that was in Paris twenty-five years ago that someday I would be back here, and that I would spend nine months of my life on the year I turned forty, participating in a Disney based running adventure where I ran a total of 84.1 miles with countless training miles in between, I would never have believed you. Heck if you had told me that six years ago the day I was having my surgery I wouldn’t have believed you then either. I wasn’t ready to be that girl yet. I was nowhere near ready. I didn’t have the determination or the courage yet. Like I said earlier, we all get there at different times in our journey.

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The Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Finish Line

But when I crossed that finish line… or I should say when I flew over the finish line, with my arms stretched out like wings and the RunDisney volunteer put that Castle to Chateau medal around my neck commemorating my journey from the Dopey Challenge in Orlando to the Pixie Dust Challenge in California to this Inaugural Half Marathon in Paris, I started to cry.

I knew that something extraordinary had just happened to me. I knew that my Father, Joy and my community were all proud of me, and I knew that I had just done something I would be telling stories about for the rest of my life.

Castle to Chateau Completed!

The finish line in Paris doesn’t actually say “Finish”. It’s in French, so it says “Arrivee” which translates literally to “Arrival” and somehow, this particular finish line had a completely different meaning to me. I knew the moment I approached it, because of the emotional response that I had to it that I had just arrived at a new point in my weight loss journey.

This was a defining moment for me.

This moment changed something inside me.

I knew, with more certainty than I have ever known anything before, that I was and am headed in the right direction and that I am nowhere near finished yet.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

Please Support My Sponsor! Visit the BariLife Website for all your Post Operative WLS Protein and Vitamin Needs!

My Health Hero – Chris and Heidi Powell

Last week I received an email from the Outreach Coordinator at a company called Oscar Insurance who provides health insurance in New York and New Jersey.  They were looking for influential bloggers to write about their Health Hero, a person in their life that helps them stay on track and stay healthy as part of their campaign to help spread the news about their new approach to healthcare.

I’m not the type to take the word “Hero” lightly. When I say someone is my hero it’s because they are someone who I look up to. A hero to me is someone who has by some act or another saved me.  When you ask me who my Health Hero is, there is really only one true answer: Chris and Heidi Powell.

When you name someone famous as your hero usually you come off sounding like an obsessed fan. But the truth is though I am a fan, a big fan, I’m a fan because of how they have both helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life and encouraged me into the light during times that nobody else could.

Losing my father halfway through my weight loss journey was devastating

150519b2b2fb11e2b6f822000a1f8cdf_6My Father was the champion of my weight loss journey. His concern for me at 420 lbs., being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, clinical depression and sleep apnea  and not wanting him to leave the world uncertain of how long I would be left in it was what propelled me to try to make some health changes.

Although I was still motivated to lose my weight, not having him there to say “I’m proud of you,” and cheer me on along the way left me feeling alone in what felt like the hardest journey I was ever going to take.

Around this time I wrote to Chris Powell for the first time expressing how much I admired him and what he does on his show and how much I desired to help others lose weight by becoming a Personal Trainer myself. I was so ecstatic when he responded to that letter and told me how awesome he thought I was. Having him say he was proud of me, not just for losing the weight but for the emotional obstacles I had overcome was the closest thing I could image to hearing my Father tell me he was proud of me.

Now I hated my body more than I ever had

I think many of us affected by obesity start out thinking that if we get skinny all of our problems will be solved. Since I was a little girl I believed that if I wasn’t “fat” my life would be much better. Boys would like me, girls wouldn’t bully me, people wouldn’t stare at me and kids wouldn’t make fun of me.

As an adult the same disillusionment that wouldn’t be so unhappy if I wasn’t so horrifically overweight followed me. Once I lost my weight I was startled to realize that I wasn’t any happier with the version of me I saw in the mirror than I was before I had lost my weight. Even though I had reversed all of the health conditions that obesity had caused me I still needed to deal with the depression and my new struggles issues with body image.

8ede362ab2fa11e2aee522000a9f15b9_6Luckily watching Chris Powell’s show Extreme Weight Loss had somewhat prepared me for this. His approach to total transformation and how in order to change your body you had to change your mind helped me start to wrap my head around food addictions and helped me start to understand why I hated my body so much. The realization that as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I associated my body with what had been done to me was a huge part of my transformation process.

The day Chris Powell became my Hero

I spent a year doing several rounds of reconstructive plastic surgery to have the skin removed thinking that I could cut it off and get rid of what I now considered the remnants of my abusers.  But no matter how many surgeries I had, there was always some evidence of the fact that I once weighed over four hundred pounds. The day I realized that those old ghosts still haunted me was one of the darkest moments in my life.

In a moment of panic I reached out to Chris again via Facebook and asked him to read a blog I had written, “If you’re still hearing my voice I could use a pep talk right now.” Once again he replied.

“Pandora you have come so far. Never forget that! I am still so proud of you. I hope you won’t give power to those who hurt you in the past and still haunt you. It is YOUR body. You have achieved much but the journey continues doesn’t it? When you look at yourself in the mirror I want you to see what YOU have accomplished not what the past may still try to remind you of.”

I’m not sure there was anyone else that could have said those words that I would have been able to hear them from.  Sometimes we’re not ready to hear a message no matter how much truth it contains. I honestly believe that Chris saved me that day with his words. Had he not answered me I’m not sure that I would have learned the lessons his words contained and I might have spiraled into very unhealthy place.

In a moment in my life where I literally felt like my past was burying me alive his words were the little bit of oxygen I needed to get me through as I started to dig my way out. He taught me to stop giving power to people who didn’t deserve it and to give that power to myself instead by learning to love myself, to appreciate and be proud of what I saw in the mirror because it clearly displayed how far I had come.

The Powell’s continue to be a pillar in my journey to a healthier mind and body

e46b8660b2fa11e2a47922000ae90d5b_6In the next year I got the opportunity to meet him and his wife Heidi Powell, who I instantly connected with because we shared the commonality of both having recently lost our fathers.

As time has passed there have been a couple other times that I’ve reached out to them. Sometimes I just need to hear them say they are proud of me.

When I was struggling with the number I was seeing on the scale after my last round of reconstructive plastic surgery and was emotionally paralyzed with the fear of re-gain, it took Chris telling me to stay off the scale and let my body heal for it to sink in.

In the last year or so I haven’t needed them as much in those ways because the lessons that they have taught me have stuck with me. They’ve added tools to my weight loss journey tool box that have left me better armed and now, my journey continues through my job as a weight loss and wellness coach and through sharing what I have learned with my clients.

But almost every day I see a post from Chris or Heidi that affects my life; A water check-in that asks me if I’ve drank half my body weight in ounces of water or a post asking me what exercise I plan on doing for the day that reminds me to move.

During the seasons of Extreme Weight Loss I keep my gym here in North Carolina open late so my clients and I can spend time on cardio machines watching the show together and Chris and Heidi are always sure to take the time to give me and my clients a virtual high-five to encourage us.

I’m constantly sharing posts from Heidi that I know have messages that will help others affected by obesity when they find themselves in those dark places that I was once in. Articles about body image issues, self-acceptance, a new workout routine or a healthy recipe that sounds delicious and makes you not feel so deprived.

Being a blogger it shouldn’t  be so amazing to me that having only meet Chris and Heidi Powell once, their correspondence with me via social media outlets has enabled them to be such a huge part of my life. Everything they have done for me, the support they have given me, the constant encouragement and motivation they provide hasn’t only helped me stay on track with my health but has made me a better coach and helped me help others stay on track with theirs.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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About (Pandora) The Author

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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The kind people at BariLife have been generous enough to send me to Paris to represent the WLS Community in the inaugural RunDisney Paris Disney Half Marathon.
Please take the time to visit their website and check them out! Be sure to tell them Pandora sent you!

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