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When He Weighed Nearly 300 Pounds, This Nurse Underwent Bariatric Surgery and Took Up Running

He didn’t want his health to land him in the hospital.

tracy helmer how running changed me
Courtesy Tracy Helmer

Name: Tracy Helmer
Age: 48
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Occupation: Registered Nurse, Surgery
Start Weight: 297 pounds
End Weight: 175 pounds
Time Running: 2 years

At nearly 300 pounds, I was socially paralyzed. I was depressed, and not confident going anywhere, especially to events that involved physical activity. I was not flexible, had no energy, no stamina, and struggled with basic exercises. I was eating high calories with no value to them: carbs, fats, and way too much of it. Sometimes, I thought I was a shark as I ate and binged, but there was absolutely no need for it. I would not be able to stop myself at times.

On top of that, I had a lot of health problems. I was living with type 2 diabetes, and also had hypertension. I was taking maximum amounts of insulin to combat the effects of my diabetes, but still could not keep my health in check.

I was reaching my mid 40s and had serious fears of dying of a heart attack because I witnessed my older brother go through having a severe heart attack. He miraculously lived through it, but he should have died. After that, I told myself I refused to allow my parents to bury their child (me). I have seen it many times in my career as a healthcare provider, and it is my biggest fear.

I was blessed to receive bariatric surgery in 2018, and began to dabble in running by mid 2019. I learned about my stride, running economy, shoes and hydration. As 2020 began, it became a part of my strategy to build my strength, endurance, and my pulmonary health (as I dealt with dozens of COVID patients in my career and saw them struggle with this).

My first runner’s high came in March 2020, and I was hopelessly hooked. A quarter-mile run turned into a half-mile run, and I just kept finding the grit to push and push. I then started running a couple times per week.

Now I eat average to smaller portions. I always err on the side of eating more protein, and I always leave carbs on my plate. I practice telling myself “I have enough.” All of those things are new for me, but they are the best way to sustain my activity level.

Sadly, my father passed away this past year, and to this day, I can still feel his presence when I run, so I run for him.

I have run in many 5K and 10K races, and did the Tough Mudder Laughlin event on November 20, 2021. I completed the 10-mile course with a band around my arm with my dad’s name (Johnny).

There is freedom in running that transcends the troubles of daily life, but in some unexplained way, I find balance and ability to stay grounded. I feel like you can just float when you find your pace and rhythm.

I am currently running four to five times per week, and I love to run and shadowbox while I run. I am training for a busy obstacle course racing season. My son ran alongside me at my Tough Mudder race in 2021. He was not signed up for that race, but he ran alongside the course between each obstacle to show his support. How can I not be motivated by that? I run 12 or more miles every month or two, just to push myself. My goal isn’t to run a marathon, but to use running to balance my health and strength.

I have lost more than 120 pounds. I am currently 175 pounds. I have built some muscle, and overall, I am totally happy with myself.

These three tips have made my running journey successful:

1.Don’t accept your excuses

It is our nature to make them, but it can be your choice to push through them. In life, we learn at a young age to make excuses for ourselves. It must be good, if we have to make an excuse for why we don’t do it, so I try to practice the art of reprogramming my responses.

      2. Get the worm every single day

      For me, nothing good ever comes my way if I sleep the day away. “The early bird gets the worm.” I want to be up early, so I have my choice of the things I will accomplish.

      3. Find what drives you

      I would love to run downhill every day, but I would never get results if there was no effort that I had to dig deep to uncover. My choice is to embrace the challenge and build power and strength by taking on those challenges.

      Sometimes, it comes down to finding your motivation. Don’t be afraid to psych yourself up however you need to, so that you can find a force that drives you. Self-limiting behavior is our biggest enemy in running—when you let your mind quit, your body will follow. Don’t do that sh*t to yourself.

      Tracy's Must-Have Gear

      Asics NovaBlasts: Don’t buy online. Go try them on instead! Good shoes are key. You have to find a shoe that is synergistic with your stride.

      Powr Labs Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor: This tracks my heart rate and links to my phone so I can track my pace, distance, rest, etc. It has elevated my effort.

      Beats Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earbuds: After trying many brands of earbuds (and seeing the failures of them), I just feel that you must have a great way to hear your motivation. And the Powerbeats are the best.

      GU Energy Gel: I keep a packet or two in my water flask so if my blood sugar starts to feel low, I have a burst of energy.

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