Below is the first part of an amazing post written by Gwen Papineau. I hope you will be as in awe of her as I am when you read about her journey. Gwen started this road weighing over 300 lbs. She is just like any one of us…if she can find her way, you can too.

woman-runningsmall“I’ll never run my first marathon again.” There is beauty and yet pain in that statement. When you have worked so hard toward something for so long, there is a terrible let down when it is all over with. Kind of like when newlywed brides suffer from post-wedding syndrome. It sounds ridiculously crazy to mourn for the planning and execution of an event, but I’m here to tell you it’s real. It’s a “now what?” kind of feeling. I am SO proud to have run my first marathon. I’m so proud to have run at all. Period. To have taken the chance, to have believed and pushed myself. Just to go out there and run that first mile three years ago – I was taking a risk. There were all kinds of reasons I could fail, but not one that was serious enough to mean I would fail.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I didn’t just wake up one day, wipe the sleepy from my eyes and say “I think I should run a marathon.” Four years ago the idea of running 26.2 miles sounded like a GREAT one – for anyone NOT named Gwen. Until that one day, when at around 300 pounds I watched a close friend run the 2004 Marine Corps Marathon. We followed her around the city as the miles climbed (and my Halloween hangover slowly melted away). When I watched her cross that finish line and met up for hugs and photos afterward, I don’t know why, but I was overcome with emotion. Now don’t get me wrong – while I am a very emotional person, the fact that I was so touched by her accomplishment was no surprise. But what was a surprise was the personal draw that finish line had to me. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when, but I felt the serious need to cross that finish line myself. And after the pictures were taken and the crowd died down, I went back to my townhouse, and probably ate like a dozen donuts and a pint or two of Ben and Jerry’s. Okay, that’s a blatant exaggeration. Clearly. I think. But as quickly as the thought of running a marathon myself entered my head, it was replaced with “so what’s for lunch, I’m totally hung-over.” It wasn’t for another year that I had my “A-Ha!” moment, you know, when the light bulb suddenly shines brighter than it ever has, the clouds part, and perhaps a few rays of sunshine fall directly on you. You and your muffin top spilling over your jeans…sidebyside2

I HATE to make generalities (and yet do it ALL the time) but I think that generally,overweight women find themselves in one of two categories. Hiding in the shadows from what they see in the mirror, or saying screw what the mirror and/or scale say, I’m fabulous – watch out world! I’ll give you a millisecond to think about which I fall into. I’ve never been a wall flower. I’ve never been shy or meek or one to sit back and watch the world pass me by. I am so much more the center of attention kind of gal. As a “big girl” if you will, I had a fantastic life. I said and did anything I wanted. I was loud, I was funny and I like to think, delightfully charming. I drank, I ate, and I was merry! You get the picture. I never had a “woe is me, I’m so fat” mentality. I didn’t let my weight hold me back. From anything. Including more food.

And at the same time that I say I had a fanatic life as a fatty; there was still a loneliness that existed. It was buried under a lot of positive self esteem and confidence, but it was still there. I had tons of friends. Still do. See the precious thing about most friends is that they love you regardless of what you look like and simply for who you are and what you bring to the friendship. Often times now, when I look back at pictures from three years ago with my friends, they say they never realized how heavy I was. They didn’t see me as 323.6 pounds. I was just Gwen. But at 24 years old, I had never been in a “real” relationship, never had a “serious” boyfriend, and while that was OKAY, it was something I definitely attributed directly to my weight. It’s a tough thing to run around with a crowd of very attractive friends. We all know that every good looking group of girls must have a token fat friend. It’s pretty much a law of nature. And I played that role happily. I still got plenty of attention when we would go out, but never in a romantic kind of way. But all along I was thinking, “GOD if I looked like these skinny bitches, they would be in so much trouble,” because with my personality and their bodies, how could any guy resist?!

So I found myself going out with my best girlfriends from college and a big group of extended friends in October 2005. And since the invention and widespread use of digital cameras, every event must be fully documented. Like prom. EVERY WEEKEND. And after a wonderful night out, when the pictures began to circulate, I looked at images of myself wedged between my two skinny friends and that was my “A-HA!” moment. I was more than the two of them combined – I was essentially three times the size of one of them. And though my smile beams through that picture and I thought I looked hot as hell that night, it occurred to me that at 24 years old, I was what they call morbidly obese. And single. That would not do.

It would just so happen that I had been hearing for a while that Weight Watchers was doing their free enrollment special. I am a repeat offender in the world of Weight Watchers and the battle of the bulge. Precedent existed for me to plunk down some hard earned money, count some points, write a few things down, and lose a few pounds. But ultimately pizza and jellybeans were so much more entertaining. I’d tried the program several times before and I had found plenty of reasons to fail and I did. I let myself. I had even had as much success as to lose 40 pounds in high school but could never find the will to stick with it. But in October 2005, something changed. I knew it was either this or wake up the following year likely tipping closer to 400 pounds. And Lane Bryant only goes to size 28. I took the offer and went into my first meeting and started the process of revolutionizing my life.

I have an addictive personality. Which I am sure is directly related to why I am a volume eater. I don’t generally do anything a little bit, but rather go all in. If I start something, and I like it then I stick with it. So if I open a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs I’m going to eat the entire king size bag. When I started Weight Watchers I made some pretty big changes right off that bat that allowed me to drop 102 pounds in a year. Needless to say at that point, I was all in. I was addicted.

I didn’t walk into my first Weight Watcher meeting expecting to lose over 100 pounds. As confident as I am, I’m not sure I even believed that I would be that successful, but I knew I was going to give it a serious try. It was a gradual process of change. I started by changing my eating habits and after a month or two, started actually using my gym membership and walked two miles three or four times a week. I became religious about it. When I went away on business, I refused to go if I didn’t get to use the gym at the hotel. Slowly, walking became elliptical-ing (pretend it’s a word). Before I knew it, I had lost 50 pounds, and people started to notice. It was around this time, close to my 25th birthday that a coworker suggested I sign up to run the Army Ten Miler. I laughed pretty loud and hard until I could see she was serious. Me? Run? While I had enjoyed an active childhood, I avoided running at all costs. I hated the timed mile in gym class. I resented my field hockey coach for making me run on the track – I mean hello, I volunteered to be goalie because they didn’t have to run around the field for the whole game! But the more I thought about it, the more interesting it seemed. And besides, the race was over six months away at that point, far enough away to put out of my mind for a little while.

By June 2006 I had lost 65 pounds and thought that if I was going to run a 10 mile race in October, four short months away, I better see if I can run at all! I mapped out a one mile loop through my neighborhood, laced up my fancy new running shoes, grabbed my ipod and went. When I completed the loop, I was amazed. I had run a mile! Without stopping! And it only took me 14:30! Mind you, when I say “run” I mean “jog” compared to many runners – but that didn’t matter! It was “run” to me, and I might as well have been a cheetah out there! I ran a mile. I was so impressed with myself, I did it again. Two miles in one day! Again, I think the clouds parted and rays of sun fell across my slightly smaller muffin top. Soon I had myself running two miles a few times a week and building up to three, then four. I followed a novice training program for a 10 mile race that I found online. I vividly remember the first time I ran a new longer distance – every occasion a victory so great it was as though I had run 100 miles!

gwen4On race day in October 2006 I had lost 98 pounds and I finished a 10 mile race faster than I had imagined. I won’t rehash all of the glory of that first race for you, but imagine it was something like Rocky running up the steps, or perhaps like winning the lottery. Because really – I had. I gambled on the fact that I could change my life THE RIGHT WAY, through healthy eating and exercise. It wasn’t always easy – in fact rarely was it easy at all. But it was livable. And I had never felt so amazing in my entire life. I felt as though the outside was beginning to reflect the immense beauty I always knew lived within. As if I need more confidence and self esteem – it grew tenfold.

Oh, but Gwen’s journey didn’t stop there. She had miles to go (literally) before she’d sleep! Want more of the amazing? Click over to my friend Kate’s blog for the rest of the story…