Club president Steven Miles estimates that 70 percent of members are concerned about losing weight and getting healthier. He is one of them.
Miles has lost 62 pounds since joining the club a couple of years ago, after a doctor informed him he had made it into the obese weight category.
On the following pages, we profile three ordinary people who accomplished something extraordinary. Erin Thielker ,Anthony Blair and Gordon Harvey lost a combined 220 pounds.
All three chose a sport that was hard for them at first. All three chose to eat healthier. All three used support groups within their own families and fellow members of the Anniston runners Club.
They prove that sometimes you need to be a loser to win.
Anthony Blair, 45
Lost 72 pounds
Two years ago, Anthony Blair of Lincoln was overweight, had several health issues and could not run more than 100 yards without stopping.
Today he is a svelte, chiseled running machine, setting personal records and beating other runners 20 years his junior at local events.
Blair’s wake-up call came when his doctor added another blood pressure pill to his daily prescriptions. He already had elevated blood sugar and cholesterol. Heart disease and diabetes ran in his family.
“I thought, ‘I’m in my 40s and something has to change if I plan to live longer,’” Blair said. “My grandfather died at 52 with a heart attack, so all this got me motivated to do something.”
That “something” was walking, but he quickly bored of the slow pace. He knew running burned a lot of calories, so he began jogging, just a little at a time.
“The more I kept working at it, the easier it became,” Blair said. “I was going further and further without walking. I started feeling much better, had more energy and slept better at night.”
Blair’s proudest moment was when he was able to complete his first 5K (3.1 miles) without stopping or walking. Now he is poised to break 18 minutes for that distance.
Blair is a robotics engineer for North American Bus Industries, and a married father of two. His family, faith and encouragement from other runners have helped him succeed, but he admits it has not always been easy.
“There have been times, especially if I have had an injury or am very sore for a few days, that I wonder, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But I look back at my health numbers and it reminds me how much healthier I am and how much better I feel.”
Blair’s advice to others who want to change: “Why try a 10- or 30-day diet, that most people usually gain the weight right back, plus more?”
Instead he recommends a “life diet:” Choose to eat and drink healthfully, no junk foods or sodas, and add exercise to your daily regime.
“I feel like I have a life again, given a second chance to turn things around.”
Gordon Harvey, 45
Lost 93 pounds
Gordon Harvey is a changed man. So much so that not one of his former classmates recognized him at a recent reunion.
Harvey used to be obese. To see him now, running or competing in triathlons, it’s hard to imagine his fit frame with an extra 93 pounds on it – the weight equal to that of his 10-year-old son.
Harvey knows too well what obesity feels like, the toll it takes on the body and the psyche. It took the shock of facing his own mortality before he was ready to commit to a healthier lifestyle.
In December 2006, Harvey discovered that his blood pressure was dangerously high. He decided to get active.
Even though he had been overweight his whole life, he was always involved in football and wrestling, which included running for training. He knew running helped him cut weight in the past, so he chose to run.
“Starting over again hurt at first – not going to lie,” said Harvey, a professor at Jacksonville State University. “Half a mile felt so hard, but after a few weeks, I grew into it, and the feeling during a run and after a run was indescribable.”
Harvey ran his first 5K in April 2007. When he finished, he felt like the “king of the world.”
He continued to train and ran the Disney Marathon in 2009. But while he had lost some weight, he wasn’t progressing like he wanted to.
Exercise alone was not enough. “The key was making up my mind that this would be a lifestyle, and not a diet,” he said. For Harvey, that meant becoming a vegan – not eating or using animal products of any kind.
“I have never felt stronger or more energetic in my entire life. I could run circles around my 18-year-old self,” he said.
Harvey altered his workout regime, as well. He cross-trains by swimming, biking and doing core exercises. A member of Anniston Runners Club’s Tri Team, Harvey did his first triathlon two years ago.
He plans to run more marathons, and in 2013 hopes to enter a full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run).
With all that, his proudest moments have been running with his sons, or watching them race shorter distances. “My family has been supportive of my endurance lifestyle,” Harvey said.
“I cannot imagine not being able to run, and would never consider giving it up. It is part of my identity now.”
Erin Thielker, 29
Lost 55 pounds
Erin Thielker’s 2-year-old daughter, Brooksly, loves to ride in her orange baby jogger, bouncing up and down as her mother pounds out mile after mile.
Brooksly has never known anything different. To the cherubic tot, her mom has always been a runner. But Thielker, a first-grade teacher from Coldwater, knows it has not always been like that.
A self-proclaimed yo-yo dieter, Thielker has been trying to lose weight for what seems like her whole life. But until she started running, nothing stuck.
The catalyst was two-fold. One was a photo she could not bring herself to hang on her wall because she was embarrassed about her weight.
The second was four years ago, when she went for a check-up before getting pregnant with Brooksly. Her cholesterol was almost 300 (239 is considered borderline high). Her doctor said she had six months to get it down, or she would be on medication the rest of her life.
She knew she had to make some changes.
A friend, Randy Lusk, was a member of the Anniston Runners Club. He invited her to run with one of the training groups. “I started walking first,” Thielker said. “He convinced me if I could walk, then I could run.
“At first, I hated it, but it was faster than walking the whole three miles. Every time, I tried to go a little farther before walking. Then one day I made it running the three miles without walking.”
Thielker was hooked. She lost 40 pounds, but then became pregnant. After giving birth, she lost 55 pounds over 18 months and has maintained it since. “I have a purpose now to be healthy,” she said. “I run to be healthy for my family.”
After having Brooksly, Thielker never thought she would get back to where she was before, but her running buddies kept her moving. “They encouraged me, helped push the stroller and rearranged their schedules to run when I could run,” she said. “Without them dragging me out, I probably would have given up.”
Now, Thielker is the inspiration, offering encouragement to new runners. Her advice: Start small. Set realistic goals.
“Anyone can be a runner,” she said. “You don’t have to be fast, or skinny, or know what you’re doing. The road doesn’t care.”
Anniston Runners Club
• More than 630 members
• The club partners new members with running or walking buddies who have similar paces.
• Members are eligible to participate and gain points in the Grand Prix racing series.
• Hosts education workshops, weekly training runs.
• Different divisions for youth, women, triathlon and ultra.
• $15 for individual membership, $20 for family.
• The 32nd annual race will be Aug. 4.
• More than 1,300 runners and walkers participated last year.
• This year’s race will be the Road Runners Club of America National 5K Championship.
• Also a 1-mile Kidstock race for kids.