For many people, losing weight becomes more difficult as we age. Sue Reynolds, a 66-year-old from Bloomington, Indiana, is here to prove otherwise.
She began her weight-loss journey in her late 50s, and over the course of four years, lost 200 pounds by changing what she ate and how often she moved.
“I truly believe that we can transform our lives at any age,” she says. “I am proof.”
Before her weight loss, Reynolds already had a full life: a husband of 40 years, two adult sons and a thriving career as the founder and president of a nonprofit. But her busy life also required plenty of sacrifices.
Reynolds strongly believed in the mission of her nonprofit, which helps schools raise student achievement, specifically low-income students, and she worked long hours to support it. She would pull all-nighters several times a week and eat high-calorie foods like cookies and candy to help her stay awake.
As her organization grew, so did her waistline. Soon, the 5-foot-7-inch Reynolds weighed 335 pounds.
At the urging of family members who were concerned about her health, Reynolds tried to lose weight several times, usually through various low-calorie diets. But the plans were too extreme, focusing solely on numbers without much regard to nutrition or satiety. Long-term, they just weren’t sustainable, and Reynolds gained the weight back every time.
In April 2012, she reached a breaking point. She could no longer fit in a restaurant booth, buckle a seat belt or even bend over to tie her shoes. Just walking more than half a block, climbing a flight of stairs or talking in front of an audience left her gasping for air.
She decided she needed to lose the weight for good, which meant taking a different approach.
Reynolds threw out the low-calorie, quick-fix mindset and switched to a whole food-focused nutrition plan that included five meals per day and all food groups. She promised herself this wasn’t just another diet; this was for life. To help her reach her goals, she downloaded MyFitnessPal and started logging her food one day in advance, so she had no choice but to stay on track.
Reynolds knew exercise would only speed her weight loss, so she also started walking. Her first walk was to her neighbor’s driveway, about 100 meters from her back door. She held on to her husband’s arm for support and stopped halfway to rest. Each day, they walked one more driveway, until she could walk 3 miles on her own.
Eventually, she began attending a water aerobics class where she would swim breaststroke, and from there, she added a spin class. Though it wasn’t intentional at the time, she had all three components of a triathlon: swim, bike and run. As her fitness increased, she decided to go for just that.
“Without telling anyone, I signed up for my first sprint triathlon,” Reynolds says. “On race day, I was scared to death. I finished second-to-last, but I didn’t care. I had finished! I felt like I had won the Olympics, and I loved the friendly, supportive triathlon community.”
Reynolds was soon hooked on the sport, and she knew every pound of the excess weight she lost would only make it easier for her to get across the finish line.
Over the course of four years, she went on to lose 200 pounds — 100 pounds in her first year and an additional 100 pounds in the three years following — but weight loss was just the beginning. As she continued to race, she discovered an inner athlete with an insatiable competitive spirit that eventually had her competing across the globe.
If you ask her today about her favorite moment from this journey, it’s not when she stepped on the scale and saw a weight-loss milestone. Instead, it’s when the results were posted for the 2017 Age Group Triathlon World Championship in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Shaking her head with wonder, and as tears filled her eyes, she learned she had placed sixth against the best triathletes in the world and was the top American competitor.
“Five years earlier, I weighed 335 pounds and couldn’t tie my own shoes,” she says. “Now, I was competing on behalf of the United States and wearing the same triathlon uniform that the USA Olympians wore. Now, people yelled, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ as I raced.
“As my grandchildren like to say, ‘Best day ever!’”
Today, Reynolds continues to train and live a healthy, active lifestyle. She still logs her food every day on MyFitnessPal but now focuses on sports performance instead of weight loss.
She’s also written a book about her incredible journey, entitled “The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity, and Faith,” which will be released in April 2020. She is donating proceeds from the book to the USA Triathlon Foundation, whose mission is to “transform lives through sports,” a cause that’s deeply personal.
Reynolds encourages others to go in search of their biggest dreams, no matter their age or limitations. They might be surprised by what they find.
“You don’t know who might be hiding inside of you until you have the courage to take the first step toward discovering that person,” she says. “I say, ‘Go for it!’ What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t lose weight. But what’s the best that could happen? You become a new you!”
Originally published February 2020
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