This is the third installment of the stories of the athletes that worked hard to wear TeamUSA with pride.
“I hated myself. Fortunately, I could cry in the shower and no one could hear me. As a nurse and a mom, I was an expert at putting on the happy face. I could hide and disguise how much I hated myself.”
As I interviewed Kimee during her drive home from work, she often chuckled and talked as if she was sharing someone else’s stories. It was hard to remind myself as I heard this tragedy that Kimee is perhaps the proudest member of TeamUSA as an athlete in the sport of Duathlon. Seeing her in uniform inspires people. Yet, that picture does not offer any glance at her past. She is NOT an athlete by upbringing or family history. In fact, should shouldn’t be much of anything.
Yet, to go from over 400 lbs. down to 160 is a story that few understand. Some of her path sounds like a Hollywood movie. Other parts of it sound like a speaker at a AA meeting.
Living a life that existed at both physical extremes is like being a Pro-Trump democrat. Reconciliation for Kimee mandates lots of laughter and tears as she shared with me her past life events. At each step of her story, I wondered if she was like my biological brother, who makes stuff up as he speaks. However, even my brother’s wildest lies didn’t have the backing that Kimee’s stories do. After all, she wears the same uniform I wear with her name on it, and those are not for sale to the public.
As she talked to me on her car ride home from work, I asked questions to myself as to how I would have responded, had I lived her life. But my brain couldn’t get a handle on the comments shared shared like items on a menu at a fast food restaurant.
How would you view yourself if you got drunk on pure grain alcohol blended drinks after school, when you were 6 years old?
“My brother introduced to pure grain alcohol when I was real young, and it really impacted how I saw the world.” How would I process that? I can’t imagine.
And the stories continued. Kimee joined the Navy at age 16, and later, Navy doctors told her that she has Lupus and will die from it. Alas, she didn’t have lupus. She was one of many women misdiagnosed. However, to be told that you will die soon from a socially reputable source like a doctor creates anxiety- unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Instead, she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome…google it. That means she can’t create tears and is often experiencing dry mouth. I wondered as she described early life how she could eat enough to weigh 400 lbs in the first place. A lot of food satisfaction comes from feeling it break down in her mouth. Without saliva, it can’t be the same experience. It’s like going on a blind date, but really being blind.
As her story continued and she shared some of her other athletic achievements, I kept wondering how she could perform at the levels she expects herself to reach. I can’t imagine running a marathon or cycling 100 miles if you have difficulty producing saliva. I can’t imagine cycling into the wind or racing downhill at 100 kph if I couldn’t produce tears. No way.
Kimee ended up spending the first part of her life coming to terms with her 400 lb body frame. She got married,started a family, then divorced and became a single mom. Her drinking continued from kindergarten and into her marriage, and she claims that she wasn’t a good mom. Her oldest son, now a thriving member of the National Guard, acted out, and he was expelled from day care. I didn’t know that was possible.
She then remarried and had two additional children, creating a blended family, but not just a “regular” blended family. She had a special needs child from her first husband and now had two special needs children with her second, and they needed a healthy mom. She knew she HAD to deliver.
She was obese enough to the point that physicians were telling her that she will need a wheelchair soon. Then, a life changing moment happened.
“One day, while playing with Karlie Kay at the local park, I attempted to stand up from a bench, and my foot got caught in a branch. I slipped and fell, while a police car was driving by. I had to roll my body as I fell to make sure that I didn’t land on my baby girl, and the police car never stopped. In that moment, I saw that I had to do something about my condition. Had I landed on my daughter, I might have killed her. And, I knew right then that I was not got to get any help in getting out of my situation.”
This, too, was another lie, as Kimee’s husband helped her out. His role in her climb from the woman in the picture below to TeamUSA Athlete and Ironman competitor doesn’t happen without her husband.
“I decided my first goal was to walk around the park one time. There were two route choices: a .8-mile loop that was flat and a 1.1-mile loop that had a hill on it. I knew the hill was out of the question, so I set my goal at walking around the .8-mile loop (in central Illinois), one time.”
It took her several months, and during that time, she would occasionally leave her daughter in day care a little longer to create the free time Kimee needed to take care of herself. Once she completed the .8-mile loop, she immediately set her goals on doing the 1.1 mile loop, while pushing her daughter in a stroller.
“I was so winded early on. There was one point when I couldn’t carry my daughter up a set of stairs without getting winded. I had no self-respect and couldn’t come to terms with the responsibility I had for my body and my children.”
Kimee spent many years in the military as a nurse, and she became proficient at taking care of others. After the fall, it finally registered that she needed to also take care of herself.
Then, her luck started to change. She began attending a local gym. The gym ran a competition, and Kimee won it, losing 27 lbs. in just 90 days. Her prize was some supplements which she didn’t take and a 1-year engagement with a personal trainer. She took that offering and made the most of it.
She lost her first 100 lbs. without much difficulty. She was on her 2nd 100 lb. lose when she was challenged to participate in a group run with the intention of running a 10k. When she arrived at the first group, she was anxious. After voicing her concerns the leader, she was reassured that everyone would be running together. Then, within a few moments of starting the first training run, the group had run well ahead of her. By the time everyone had finished, and she approached the instructor to find out why they left her, the instructor told that she probably was not able to run a 10k.
You don’t tell a closet athlete that they can’t do something. In retrospect, it appears that God used that instructor’s negativity to help answer Kimee’s dreams. Kim started routinely visiting the 10-k training course, running it alone, so that when the group gathered to run in the future she would be ready. She was focused on proving those who said she can’t do a 10-k wrong.
And she did…. beating nearly everyone who had previously ditched her. As a focused athlete, overcoming previous adversity is a inseparable part of success. She says she has photos of her beating the other runners, too! I would keep those photos!
Her path to competing in Ironman and Duathlon World Championships is documented elsewhere, but there are some components of the story that stood out to me before I ever heard any of the details of what you are reading.
My first “wow” moment was watching the pride that her children held for their mom. Some athletes compromise their role as parent as they train for an event that few can understand. Her children were there, with her, both at the start and the finish. Their enthusiasm was humbling.
My second “wow” came from the willingness to listen that she showed with Mr. Fong, the oldest TeamUSA athlete this year. As he told her stories, it was obvious that she had a lengthy history of not being a good listener. That, too, is no longer true-her healing includes more than just physical size and shape changes, but also changes in her heart.
As my phone call with her neared the end, she shared that one of her greatest moments was being selected to be the TeamUSA flag-bearer in 2017 for the World Championships in Penticton, Canada. Of course, the flag represented your country and team, but it was also her professional identity as a member of the Navy and motivation to press on.
During my rough draft stage of writing this, Kimee had to go to the ER with extreme confusion. She told me later that, “the Sjogren’s had affected my brain and caused a lapse of memory. I do not recall most of yesterday.” I consider this my third “wow” moment. Most of us would be caught up in why it happened and desperately seeking ways to prevent it from happening again. Instead, she wrote me, “the day must go on.”
Finally, when I asked her what was next, she hesitated. I know how the Holy Spirit works, and he was formally in action. As a leader, it is exciting to see growth happening in real time. I don’t think she knew what she was going to say. So, I spoke first.
“Kimee, why don’t you join me on a trip to the Himalaya for a school building project and some hiking in the highest mountains in the world? Sometimes, we run the Annapurna 100 Ultra Marathon.”
She responded via email that I am silly and that she doesn’t have the money. I quickly unwound the no money argument, but I can’t unwind the, “I’m silly,” argument, because I am silly.
As some of you know, I have a ministry whereby I build schools in the Himalaya, and we have already done 4 large projects. I am sure that Kimee could and would inspire a lot of Nepali Citizens, just as her story inadvertently inspires us here.