Susan Townsend is a familiar face at the JRMC Wellness Center. In fact, if you frequent the Wellness Center, you almost certainly recognize – and probably have gotten to know – Susan Townsend.
For a large part of Susan’s life, she struggled with being overweight. Her story is one that many women can relate to. “I was always, always the chubby kid,” she said. “People used to make comments like, ‘Susan would be so pretty if she just lost a little weight’ – that kind of nonsense,” she said, with a smile.
Susan went to college, fell in love and got engaged, which became her inspiration for living a healthy lifestyle. She joined Weight Watchers and lost nearly 50 pounds the year she got married, and she kept the weight off for a while. “I bought the wedding dress – I had to keep the weight off, because you can’t afford another one,” she said, laughing.
Through the beginning of her marriage, pregnancy and even motherhood, Susan didn’t gain the weight back. Then, tragedy came. “Stuff happens in life – we had deaths in our family, and I tried to support those around me,” she said. “We didn’t want to be at home, so we ate out a lot, and my weight just zoomed up.”
Suddenly, after taking care of her family and processing her own grief, Susan found herself many pounds heavier. “One day you’re healthy and then one day you’ve got all this weight, and it’s like, ‘Where did it come from?’ ‘How did I get all this?’” she said.
From there, Susan’s weight went up and down, but never down very much. “I was miserable,” she said. “I hated feeling that way, but I couldn’t find it in myself to lose weight.”
Then, at 52 years old, Susan’s friend convinced her to visit the JRMC Wellness Center. Though she didn’t know it at the time, she began a journey that would turn around her life-long struggle with obesity and lead her to so much more than weight loss.
“Surely I can stand still and do this,” Susan thought, as she decided to participate in BodyPump, a long-favorite Wellness Center class. She found that she could do it.
After a few months, Susan officially joined the center. Even after her friend quit due to other obligations, Susan kept coming.
She quickly learned that in addition to exercise, she had to eat healthy to accomplish her goals – and accomplish her goals she did. In about three years, Susan had lost about 80 pounds. After eight years, she hasn’t gained the weight back.
The more that Susan challenged herself, the more she accomplished. “I ventured out to classes like RPM, and I tried STEP; I got to know the instructors, and I just fell in love with the whole thing,” she said.
For Susan, the weight loss, exercise and healthy eating are all about one thing: her long-term health. “I love being able to go in and pick out something to wear and be happy with it, but the weight loss – though I’m glad for it – is more of a health issue now,” she said. “I see other people with all kinds of health problems that I don’t want to have. And I don’t want to quit until I have to quit.”
From the beginning of her weight-loss journey, Susan has found she is much stronger than she once believed. “I learned that there are lots and lots of things that I can do that I just never dreamed I could,” she said. “The first time I ever ran a 5k, I felt like I was so fast. I wasn’t, but I was fast for me! And the first time I helped with the CASA Half Marathon, I thought, ‘I know I could do that.’ The next year, I did it. Before, I didn’t think I could walk two miles, much less run two miles. But I ran a half marathon – may do it again.”
Susan loves exercise, but she believes the most important part of a healthy lifestyle is good nutrition. “Having a healthy relationship with food requires changing your thinking,” she said. “Now I try to not make food the most important thing in my life, and it used to be. I’m learning to make the activities more fun than eating. I don’t have to eat to enjoy the people I’m with or eat what everybody else is eating to enjoy them. I used to be the person that said, ‘well, you’re getting it, so okay, maybe I should get that.’ Or I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings so I wouldn’t get a salad. I’m learning to do what I need to do in those situations.”
There is a quote that says, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” Susan believes this is true. “If you work out and it burns 250 calories, that’s really not a lot of calories to eat back,” she said. For reference, a coke and bag of Cheetos is 310 calories, and one Hershey’s chocolate bar is 214 calories.
Susan eats a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, which she especially loves in the summer. “We went and picked blackberries and blueberries the other day. I don’t know if they’re just better because I know we picked them, but they’re just so good,” she said. “I could eat fruit and green vegetables all the time. That really does help.”
Having struggled with weight loss, Susan has seen a stigma and unrealistic expectations attached to being overweight. But at this point in her life, Susan isn’t concerned with other’s opinions of her appearance. “I look back on some of the comments made and think, ‘Wow – you shouldn’t say that to people,” she said. “But now I don’t care. Now I’m to the point that you can say what you want to me and I’m still okay, because I’ve decided I can do it.”
Susan said loving your body and living a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand. “If we put away all that other stuff and developed a, ‘I want to be healthy’ mindset, that would be much, much better,” she said.
With all of society pushing women to change their appearances, Susan said that at the end of the day, you have to choose to live healthy for yourself. “After my first week of working out, I never will forget putting on a pair of jeans and thinking they fit different,” she said. “I really didn’t get any positive feedback from others about that, but I knew it. And I thought, ‘I’m going to keep doing this. I’m going keep going.’”
Susan gave a gentle reminder for those who are afraid to come to the gym for fear that others will judge them: most of the time, people are worried about their own workout – not yours. “The people you think are looking at you making mistakes are too busy looking at their own selves,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t even know who else was in class unless I talk to them beforehand, because you just don’t have that time.”
And if someone does look – who cares? “There are a lot of things I have learned to just let go,” she said. “I see women of all shapes and sizes participating in Water in Motion. They’re not inhibited to put that swimsuit on, and then I know tiny, tiny people that are so inhibited about their bodies that they wouldn’t do that. These people come out because they just want to move.”
Susan said people often don’t accomplish their goals simply because they don’t believe they can. “90% of what we don’t achieve is because we think we can’t do things and we never start,” she said. After all, the first step in accomplishing a goal is simply trying. “There are so many people that I went to school with that say, ‘oh I just can’t do that.’ And I say ‘you can!’ I just want to stop and say ‘really – really you can. You can do this. If I can do this, you can do this. You can do something.’”
Susan said the Wellness Center instructors are always available to offer guidance and help. “If I didn’t have so many people around me that knew what they were doing, I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “Go to the instructors with a question. If they don’t know the answer, they’ll figure it out. They’ll look it up – they have good training behind them and they want to learn, too.”
Susan encourages everyone, no matter what stage of life, to start living healthy as soon as possible. “When you’re young, you’re starting a job and a family, and you’ve got lots of things going on – but make time for yourself, because later on, you’re going to want that,” she said. “When I was in college, the weight just fell off – but every time after that, it was a little harder and harder to lose weight. So get healthy and stay that way – don’t do this up and down.”
No matter your age, Susan says it’s never too late to do something. “I have little inspirational quotes on my phone. One says, ‘Dead last beats didn’t start at all,’” she said. “Whatever your age – go ahead and get started and just do something.”
To Susan, there’s nowhere better to get healthy than the JRMC Wellness Center. “The people are what’s so special about the Wellness Center,” she said. “It’s like a whole family, because we’re all working on the same thing – we all have this in common and the same goal in mind.”
In the future, Susan envisions the Wellness Center as huge part of her life for years to come. “I want to be like some of these people who are in their 80s and are still coming up here every single day,” she said. “I want to be around for a long time.”