I sat in the cold florescent-lit room covered only in a thin paper gown. My arm ached from the blood draw while bruises confessed previous invasions. I had gone through more doctors than I could remember, and I was still no closer to finding out what was wrong.

It started with a fever after I came home from a business trip. Airports are notorious for spreading the flu, so I dismissed it. I took a few days off from work, but I never got better.

I started back to work still achy and sick with a fever of around 100 degrees. It never broke – for over a year it ranged from 99 to 101. Doctors call it “fever of unknown origin,” and they don’t want to deal with it. I had aches and pains constantly. I gained weight. I lost my hair in the shower. I had night sweats, angina pain, muscle spasms, and insomnia. My hormone levels were very low on all my tests. I was always tired. I tried to exercise, but it exhausted me to the point that I had to choose between running or work. Either one would cause me to be unable to move for the rest of the day. I had chronic UTIs. I was on antibiotics for months at a time. Even though I lived in Florida and was out in the sun often, my vitamin D levels were very low (6 ng/ml) requiring supplementation. Doctors told me a range of things they suspected: endometriosis, mono, chronic fatigue, early menopause, fibromyalgia, and hormone issues. I became depressed, as no one in the medical community seemed to have answers. I was working hard to build up a sales territory, and this was the last thing I needed.

One doctor told me that even though my ANA test was still negative, she suspected that I was developing an autoimmune disorder. At this point, I knew I had to made some drastic changes.

I was already a vegetarian. But, my current illness was proof that just cutting out meat doesn’t make you healthier. I was still eating a lot of processed foods and cheese, and not many fresh greens. My sales job demanded I drive to visit clients across a territory of almost all of Florida and parts of Alabama and Georgia. When I got home late at night or spent nights in hotels, it cut into my motivation to eat healthy food. I often went for the easy drive-through meals, or boxes and packages that I could heat up in minutes. I was also under incredible stress at work, as my illness was impacting my performance. It’s hard to be in sales and be cheerful every day to customers when you feel like the walking dead.

First, I was fortunate to transfer to another division within my company that drastically reduced my territory size. I switched from calling on veterinarians to physicians. With less driving required and a new manager, my health improved and stress levels went down to the point that I could start exercising a bit. This gave me some hope. If I could exercise, I could pull out of this onslaught of disease and depression.

I set my sights on a marathon six months away. I paid the entry fee so I couldn’t talk myself out if it. I had never even done a half marathon in my college running days; but if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. I needed change. In addition to the multiple health issues, my weight was the highest it had been in years. I needed to drop a good 50 pounds to be race ready. I knew exercise could only carry me so far. So, I went back to eating real vegan food and threw away the packaged junk.

With diet and exercise as weapons to take back my athletic college body I knew was still in there somewhere, I began a new way of life. I focused on eating more salads and fresh fruits vs stuff from a box or bag. I also began my marathon training plan. I was too embarrassed to run with a running group due to how slow and fat I felt, so I trained around my neighborhood with only my iPod for company. Looking back, I wish I had joined the awesome group in Sarasota sooner. When I got faster and joined them, this group really took me to the next level and gave me many amazing friendships. Running is such a social sport and attracts the best people. You should never train alone if you can help it. But, due to my pride, I plodded away on my own, working up to eventually 24 long, boring miles before I started my taper for the big race. I also worked in a 5K, 10K, and two half-marathons as training races.

Running to the finish of a half-marathon in St. Petersburg, FL

Running to the finish of a half-marathon in St. Petersburg, FL.

I became a different person. The vegan diet, packed with fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables, combined with running turned my health around. I had energy again. The symptoms disappeared and the fever broke. I got off all medication. I dropped 50lbs in six months and a new person stepped out as the old shell of sickness and weight slipped off me. I have never looked back.

Then, the day came! I ran the Disney marathon. It was the most painfully amazing experience of my life. My goal was to come in at 5 hours, and I smashed that goal by a considerable amount.

Giving Goofy a high five at the finish of the Disney Marathon

Giving Goofy a high five at the finish of the Disney Marathon.

Since then, I have competed in many other road races and multiple half marathons. I also began racing in triathlons. From my first race, I was addicted. I began training for the full Ironman with a professionally-sponsored national team in Grenada. I no longer believe in limits. My body, with proper training and nutrition, can do things I never believed possible.

Me stretching out after tri practice - wearing the uniform of the national triathlon team.

Stretching out after tri practice – wearing the uniform of the national triathlon team.

I also witnessed the healing power of food in my own life. I have stayed vegan. I even did seven months where I did nothing but raw vegan. This was the absolute best way for me to eat, and I had my fastest running times on this diet.

Raw young coconuts = Nature's Gatorade! The perfect post-run recovery food.

Raw young coconuts = Nature’s Gatorade!
The perfect post-run recovery food.

I also love juicing and have done multiple fresh juice fasts up to two weeks, and seen amazing benefits to my health. I still believe in juicing at least once a day as a supplement to a healthy diet, with fasting sprinkled in as needed. There is no better way to pack in the nutrients and lose weight quickly in a healthy manner.

In six months, I went from an overweight person on the edge of developing an autoimmune disorder to running a marathon. I went from depression to hope. Now, when I see others struggling with health issues and weight problems, I can completely relate. I’ve been where you have been. All I can say is, don’t give up. Change is hard, but you never regret the work when you are on the other side. Your body can heal itself if you give it the right tools. It really is that simple. Diet and exercise did what no doctor or pill was able to do – help me find the athlete within.

O.k. I'm being brave and showing before and after pics. On the left, me at 180 pounds and sick. On the right, me at 130 pounds running to the finish line to win my age division in a triathlon.

O.k. I’m being brave and showing before and after pics. On the left, me at 180 pounds and sick. On the right, me at 130 pounds running to the finish to win my age division in a triathlon.

Can you relate? Have you ever faced these challenges? I want to hear from you! I want to encourage you not to give up. If you have conquered your illness or weight issues, please tell me your tale of triumph. Motivational stories matter! I can’t get enough of them! Let’s encourage each other on the road to a better, faster, stronger version of ourselves! It’s a tough climb to the top of this mental mountain, but… wow… what an amazing view it is!

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