So it’s Sunday evening, and I’m thinking back to last Sunday when my life was still normal. As I watched Ellen take selfies on the Oscars, I had no idea everything was about to change. At 11:38 am on Monday, my phone rang, and Pandora flipped my life upside down in the best possible way.
Hi! I’m Amy Smith, winner of the second “How do YOU Celebrate Success” contest. Thanks to Desperately Seeking Slender and some incredible sponsors, I’ve won the opportunity to train with Pandora for the next nine months for the RunDisney Wine and Dine half-marathon in November. When Pandora called with the news, I laughed and cried at the same time. I never in a million years thought I would win this contest. As she was telling me what I’d won, everything in my mind at that moment was trivial, in retrospect — Who would I tell first, what would my training schedule be like, what kind of tutu is appropriate for this race? But within 30 minutes, life got SUPER crazy.
Pandora announced me as the winner and tagged me in a link on Facebook. There I was, my before and after picture for all to see, with a link to my winning essay. When I wrote that essay, I opened up my heart and dumped it onto paper for a stranger. I had no problem telling someone I thought I would never meet about all of the scars on my heart. But what didn’t occur to me was that I might just win this thing, and everyone I know would read my story and see my pictures. When I read my own essay for the first time after winning, now knowing it was being read by friends, family, co-workers, ex-boyfriends, and the cook at the pizza shop…I burst into tears. There was my highest weight. There was the story of the most broken my heart has ever been. There was a picture of me at my heaviest. It was a huge shock to me. And then the emails, texts, voicemails and Facebook comments began to roll in.
“I get winded easily just playing with my kids, and you have inspired me to finally make the change I have wanted to make for a very long time.”
“I am going to start my running journey again, you’ve inspired me to get back out there!”
“I just threw away my sandwich and picked up a banana because of you. Thank you.”
“My daughter and I are starting couch to 5k next week, and we are very excited.”
“Your story spoke to me because I was that girl in school too. I was the nice girl, but just too fat to be anyone’s girlfriend or date. Your story gives me strength and makes me reflect on my decision day to end the hurt that I inflicted on myself and that others inflicted on me.”
“I saw the article about your weight loss on FB, and what an inspiration!!! I am planning my own journey back to health, and would love to hear any tips you might have. I want to lose 75 pounds or so!”
“I just wanted to let you know that your entry essay left me in tears, and felt extremely familiar! I’ve been in what feels like a battle for years with my health and weight, and reading your entry reminded me that it can be done! You’re such an inspiration to many.”
Messages like this were flooding in, HUNDREDS of them, and my story was getting shared over and over again, all over Facebook. And each “share” racked up even more “thanks for being an inspiration” comments. So my sadness and shock at realizing my story had gone viral on a local level were replaced by this determination to help everyone reach his or her goals. I was up past 2am Monday night trying to reply to every message or question. Shock turned into panic that I wouldn’t be able to reach out to enough people, offer them enough advice, or properly follow through on encouraging them. I had friends joining TOPS, the weight loss support group I belong to. Others went out and bought vases and marbles to start visually celebrating the pounds they are about to lose. My friend Bob got his running shoes out after years and started Couch to 5k.
By Tuesday, I was exhausted from the weight of wanting to help everyone do what I’ve done. I’d cried all day Monday from happiness, shock, fear, a bit of shame, and every other emotion imaginable. I wasn’t even thinking about my own journey ahead with Pandora, I was just trying to get everyone else started. Then I began to receive cards, gifts, and invitations to go celebrate. I kid you not, as I made some deliveries for work on Tuesday, people I’ve never even met recognized me on the street and wanted to ask questions or congratulate me. I truly felt like I’d become a local celebrity overnight. An old friend I hadn’t heard from in 7 years got in touch, relatives from out-of-state called. I did a photo shoot at Solid Rock Photos to replace my “bathroom mirror selfie” from my original essay.
By Thursday I’d really started to worry. “What if I can’t do this? What if I let everyone down?” My friend Sherry put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re doing this first and foremost for yourself. Don’t worry about letting anyone down. You just go out there and do your very best, and that in itself will inspire everyone else. Just work on you, the rest will follow.” That took some pressure off, and I started to refocus.
So now it’s Sunday, almost a week of being on Team Slender Seekers under my belt, and I am getting adjusted to life as an inspiration. I am truly overwhelmed by people putting their feet to pavement to help encourage me. My friend Stacie registered for Wine and Dine, and she’s going to train along with Pandora and me, and run by my side at Disney. I have a whole group of friends ready to start C25k or C210k, and we will all run a race together when they’ve completed the programs. Here’s Pandora’s info about how you can train with us and even win a prize!
One thing I’d really like to put out there is that I have not had a bad life. I received so many messages saying “I didn’t know how much pain you were in.” Of course I had my share of pain, much of it weight-related. But I’ve had a great life. Middle School was brutal, I can’t deny that. I’m not sure how I made it out alive. But from high school on, I found my confidence and embraced the many blessings in my life. I’ve met presidents, visited other countries, acted in musicals and followed U2 around the world. Most of all I have been blessed by an amazing family and a group of friends that put my childhood heroes, The Babysitter’s Club, to shame. I just don’t want anyone mistakenly thinking I’ve been walking around in constant sorrow my whole life, because that’s truly not the case. I just was not reaching my full potential, because my health held me back. But no longer. I can only dream of what I can accomplish now.
I’ve come a long way, but I still have a long way to go, and I’ve been struggling a bit to really re-commit myself to my diet and running after the holidays. Winning the “How do YOU Celebrate Success” contest has given me new drive and determination, along with a way to focus and have discipline and accountability. I know Pandora wishes we could take every Slender Seeker along with us, but you CAN be there with us in spirit. I hope you will join us on this incredible journey to the Wine and Dine finish line.
Thank you to Pandora, Desperately Seeking Slender, and contest sponsors AmeriWell Bariatrics, Wellesse, Celebrate Vitamins, Kay’s Naturals, and BariMelts for turning my dreams into a reality. One week from today, my training begins. Take time this week to make a plan, set some goals, and then let’s get this party started, together.
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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