Woman regains her youthful figure by runningWatch Nina Stickles push herself through a 6-mile training session along Chesapeake Avenue in Hampton, Va., and it’s hard to believe she was ever anything but a runner.
By: Mark St. John Erickson, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
HAMPTON, Va. — Watch Nina Stickles push herself through a 6-mile training session along Chesapeake Avenue in Hampton, Va., and it’s hard to believe she was ever anything but a runner.
Ditto for the energy she shows on the job at Hampton’s Sentara Center for Fitness & Health, where she routinely takes the stairs two at a time while going between the exercise floor and her office.
Hidden behind a framed picture on Stickles’ desk, however, is a secret but regularly perused portrait that tells a far different story. Just six years ago, the 5-foot-1 Hampton woman weighed in at 180 pounds — and cardiovascular exercise of any kind wasn’t on her agenda.
“I couldn’t even have completed the Presidential Fitness Test mile,” Stickles says now, shaking her head in disbelief. “I wouldn’t have run if someone was chasing me.”
Not long after that picture was taken, however, the recently married Ferguson High School grad made a bold decision.
Stepping out her front door one January day, she started to walk down Chesapeake Avenue. Five minutes later, she says, she had to stop. But she returned the next day and walked farther almost every time she went out.
Soon her strolls included short sprints between the street signs. A couple of months later, she picked up the pace even more, she says. By June, she’d shed 50 pounds — and that loss was followed by 10 more pounds over the summer.
Today, Stickles follows an even more demanding regime, running as much as 19 miles a week during the hard-earned time she’s learned to carve out from a full work-week and the job of caring for her family.
But she still looks back on her first six months of running as a milestone challenge — one that transformed not only her body but also her life.
“I had to get healthy — not only for myself but because I wanted to start a family,” the 30-year-old runner says.
“And I was afraid if I waited until after I was pregnant my 180 pounds would balloon into 230.”
Not always overweight
Stickles didn’t start off life as a short fat person.
She took up gymnastics in elementary school and pursued it ardently for years, learning to look at herself an athlete. But the once-slim figure she gained from her workouts back then began to disappear not long after she entered college.
“When I came home after my first year, people looked at me and wondered what had happened,” she recalls. “Instead of the freshman 10 pounds, I gained the freshman 25 — and I just kept gaining weight in a slow, gradual process.”
Bad eating habits may have contributed the most to her increasingly bulky body. “I thought you could eat a box of macaroni and cheese every night — and I did,” Stickles says.
But even after graduating from college and packing on more than 50 pounds, she couldn’t get a handle on an increasingly visible problem.
“I still exercised by lifting. But it was all strength stuff and no cardio,” she confesses. “I was 180 pounds of strong fat.”
Not until after Stickles married in 2002 did she really begin to feel the weight of the unfamiliar person she saw in her family pictures. Then her mom brought in a newspaper story about a middle-aged woman who had gone from fat to firm by taking up running.
“I told her, “If she can do it, you can do it,’” Cindy Kruziak says. “And she took it upon herself to make it happen.”
That’s when her daughter made the decision to walk until she could run — and then keep on running after that.
“My husband’s loved me heavy. And he’s loved me thin. But I wasn’t happy about all that weight,” Stickles says. “When I looked at those pictures, it wasn’t who I wanted to be.”
As determined as the young woman felt, she couldn’t have dropped so much weight without the dietary guidance she got from Weight Watchers and the encouragement she got from her friends and family.
Combined with her increasing mileage, that support helped Stickles see a difference nearly every time she stepped on a scale. By June, she had lost a weekly average of nearly 2 pounds.
But despite the excitement and pride she brought to many of her Weight Watchers meetings, she also ran into times when she felt so tired or lazy that she found herself looking for excuses to skip a workout.
Tough to stay motivated
“It’s always harder to go back to square one than to go forward to square four or five,” she says. “So you just have get out there and push.”
After her daughter, Katelynn, was born in late 2005, it took the same kind of determination and persistence for Stickles to not only regain her form but also raise her ambitions as a runner.
Careful time management and her family’s baby-sitting help became crucial after she joined Virginia’s Peninsula Track Club and began to set her sights on races.
“The first time I met Nina, she got my attention immediately,” says Fitness Center trainer Karen Stadler, who every year leads a group of about 20 Peninsula runners as they prepare for the Shamrock 8K-run and half-marathon held in March in Virginia Beach, Va.
“She looked around the group and said, ‘I have a jogger and a daughter. Who wants to meet with me to run?’ She’s the kind of person who’s enthusiastic — and who knows how to make things work.”
Walking the dog was out of the question, in fact, when the family started talking about getting a pet. Stickles held out until they agreed on a breed that could go along on her training runs.
She still thanks her lucky stars, however, whenever she tallies up how many times her husband, mother, grandmother and mother-in-law have stepped up to take care of the baby so she can spend an hour or two working out. They get some valuable quality time with Katelynn, Stickles says, while she gets the chance to keep herself healthy and blow off a lot of pent-up energy and stress.
“Staying fit and being healthy isn’t a simple thing. You have to work,” Stadler says.
“And the important thing about Nina is that she’s figured that out.”