One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This story is about a woman who was terrified that her weight would affect her health and leave her children without a mother. So she shed the weight, transforming into a healthier, more confident version of herself, which proves that we really can do anything if we're determined! -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
This January, Linda Kuil will take on the journey of a lifetime. She’s not off to some exotic locale like Mozambique or Monaco, but to Miami, where she and 11 others will run a 200-mile relay race through the Florida Keys. And her 2 a.m. leg will take her straight through a section called Alligator Alley, where the large reptiles have been known to take a front row seat for the race, right there on the side of the road.
“I’ve never run in the dark, let alone at 2 a.m.,” Linda laughed, “but my husband is coming along just in case, so he can bring back the body.”
But it’s not just the run that’s unique. It’s the group that Linda will be joining. Each of her teammates has lost more than 75 pounds, and they’ll be meeting for the first time when they arrive for the race. Twelve strangers, 1,200 pounds lighter than they once were, running in tag-team style over a period of 36 hours.
And for Linda, it all began with an episode of "The Biggest Loser".
“My husband Charlie and I were watching an episode where the contestants were running a marathon,” Linda remembered, “and Tara Costa from Long Island was killing it. I cried when I watched her cross the finish line. She was an unbelievable athlete from the beginning of the season and I kept thinking, 'Maybe I can start running if I lose some weight.'”
At the time, Linda was 229 pounds and it had been years since she’d completed anything more than a midnight snack run.
“That was my witching hour,” she said. “When everyone was finally asleep, the cabinets would begin calling to me. I knew what was in there because I bought it. I’d put on the TV and watch my shows and graze.”
For Linda, food was love. Having grown up in a big Italian family, there wasn’t enough food on the table unless there were leftovers that lasted for days. And there were never any limits. With a table that took up the entire kitchen, meals were served family-style and if you wanted more, it was all right there for the taking. From the time Linda was a child, she knew the scale was not her friend.
“I remember having to do the weigh-ins in gym class,” she explained. “They never say the number out loud, but just the idea that everyone was watching you get on the scale was nerve-racking.”
But that was the only part of gym class that Linda didn’t love. Whether it was volleyball, tennis or badminton, she never let her weight get in the way.
“Everybody else wanted to get out of gym, but I loved it!” she exclaimed. “I was competitive. If we could beat our gym teacher Mrs. Flynn at badminton, we could get the rest of the semester off. But I didn’t want the semester off! I just wanted to beat her. I just wanted to take that title, because no one had ever done it!
Linda never took that title, nor did anyone else, but with her 20th high school reunion on the way, there was always the idea of a second chance. But that would involve actually going to the reunion -- and that idea was weighing her down.
“I didn’t feel like I’d accomplished anything” she continued. “Yes, I have a beautiful family, but I could see on Facebook, that everyone looked the same as they did in high school, and I couldn’t see past the way I looked. I wanted something to show for the last 20 years.”
It wasn’t as if Linda hadn’t lost weight before. She’d lost it before her sister’s wedding, when she was first dating Charlie, even in anticipation of a reunion with an old friend. But she’d never put a long-term plan into place, so the weight kept finding its way back. And while she vowed to give it one more try before the reunion, it was an event that came two months earlier that would set her on a new course.
“I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing and my hands shaking. I thought I was going to die. All I could do was pace the living room floor, wringing my hands, all the while wondering what the hell was wrong with me.”
Linda thought she was having a heart attack. But it was actually panic that woke her up from a sound sleep. It was enough to make her realize she had to do something to calm the anxiety she had about her weight.
“That made me realize I had to start taking care of myself,” she said, “that I could have a heart attack. My kids were only 12 and 9 then, way too young to live without their mom.”
Story continues below slideshow.
Linda was never a skinny girl, but she always appreciated athletics. In her sophomore year of high school, she played on the girl's tennis team. She even endeavored to beat her gym teacher in badminton! Try as she might, she was never successful.
Linda was proudest of her appearance during her senior year of high school, when she was the thinnest she had been in years.
During her freshman year at Hamilton College, Linda's weight crept up on her. The campus meal plan card gave her access to endless choices in the dining hall, making it difficult to eat healthy. Here, she is pictured with her friend Joann (left), getting ready to go out for a night on the town.
Linda was so excited to become a bride, but she never wanted to be overweight on her wedding day. Despite this, she didn't make any serious efforts to lose weight. Shortly after the wedding, she found out that she was pregnant with her first child.
During both of Linda's pregnancies, she was diagnosed with pregnancy-induced hypertension. Being overweight contributed to this condition. At her last doctor's appointment before giving birth to son Charlie, she weighed 251 pounds, her heaviest weight ever.
When her son Charlie was 1 year old, Linda began walking regularly and nearly dropped below 200 pounds. Around this time, she discovered that she was pregnant with her daughter Chelsea. With two children under the age of two, it was difficult to continue keeping her weight in check.
Here, Linda is seen pictured with her close friend Michelle (left) who lives in Texas. She credits Michelle as being a friend who encourages her to step out of her comfort zone and try new things. In 2005, Linda focused on losing weight before visiting Michelle in San Antonio.
Every year around Linda's birthday, her family embarks on a trip to NYC. Here, she is pictured on her 37th birthday with son Charlie and daughter Chelsea. On this particular trip, there were so many sights that Linda wanted to see, but it wasn't easy to cover a lot of ground when she was carrying around all that extra weight.
Linda was completely unprepared when she ran her first 5k on a 90-degree day. Wearing jean shorts, she alternated between running and walking. The elderly man pictured here finished ahead of her, but she insisted on completing the race.
Although Linda's first 5k was rough, she kept on running. The Damon Runyon Yankee Stadium 5k for Cancer Research gave her the opportunity to run around the stadium of her favorite team and raise money for a good cause. It was a tough course, but her time kept steadily improving.
The more Linda ran (with her husband by her side, of course), the faster she got. At the Smith Point 5K in 2011, the couple completed their first race in under 10 minutes per mile!
Here, Linda is seen beaming on Thanksgiving in 2011. In a size 6 skirt, she had begun to see the effects of her exercise routine.
Linda is being featured in the documentary "From Fat To Finish Line," where she tells the story of her weight loss journey. In this photo, Linda had finally reached her goal weight. She insists that training for races has prevented her from returning to unhealthy habits.
As part of "From Fat to Finish Line," Linda trained with pro wrestler and personal trainer Gene Snisky. Gene sure didn't go easy on Linda -- he had her do an intense workout, using a medicine ball and her own body weight.
Losing 75 pounds calls for an updated wardrobe! Here, Linda goes shopping at Macy's Herald Square with stylist Amy Acton to prepare for the "From Fat to Finish Line" documentary.
Linda had been going gray since she was 30 and after a while, she just got tired of dying her hair. Hairstylist Amalia Moscoso worked with Linda's neglected locks to give her an updated Halle Berry-inspired do as part of the "From Fat to Finish Line" documentary.
And Linda's looking fabulous! In this full-body shot, Linda shows off her slimmer figure, donning new clothes and an updated hairstyle. She almost couldn't believe this photo was a photo of herself since she looked so dramatically different -- in a good way!
So the next morning, Linda began making changes. She started with her diet -- substituting ground turkey for ground beef and whole wheat bread for white. And every day, she took a few more steps.
“I’d exercise every single day,” she recalled. “I began by walking in the neighborhood and doing a 'Walk Away The Pounds' DVD. I just made sure I was moving every day. I lost 40 pounds, but when I got down to 190, I hit a plateau, so I decided to start walking at the local high school. I remember the first time I got out on the track, I thought they were all looking at me and wondering why I was there.”
But as Linda watched the runners swirling around her, she picked up her own pace. She’d run half a lap, then walk three more, then make it a whole lap and walk a little further.
“One day someone asked how long I’d been running and when I said I’d just gotten started, she said I looked like I’d been doing it my whole life.”
And that was the day Linda Kuil realized that she too could be one of those people that come flying across the finish line. Less than a year after the panic attack that catapulted her into action, she registered for her first 5K.
“There was a little old man who was 80 years old in front of me,” she said with a smile. “He was at least 10 people in front of me! But it gave me hope that I could be that fit when I was his age.”
Since then, Linda has completed seven other races. And her interest in running led her to find new friends online who have taken a similar path. Those are the people she’ll be meeting in January for the very first time, to run the Ragnar Relay in Miami, where they’ll also be filmed for a documentary called “From Fat To Finish Line”.
And if that weren’t enough, Linda is also hoping to go parasailing with her husband -- something she was afraid to do on their honeymoon because of her weight.
This may not be "The Biggest Loser." But for Linda, it’s definitely been an amazing race.
“It’s a brand new life and I’m having so many incredible experiences,” she said with pure joy. “But the best part is that I’ve really improved my chances of living a longer healthier life. I’m not worried about not seeing my kids graduate from high school or college anymore. Now I’m looking forward to watching them walk down the aisle and one day, maybe even running after their kids.”
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