Darlene Vatcher began putting on extra pounds in her late teens and, although she has slimmed down now, she knows maintaining a healthy weight will be a lifelong task.
The 51-year-old Corner Brook woman attributes her success and determined focus on not only motivating kicks in the pants from people like her sisters-in-law, but the effectiveness of the Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) organization.
Vatcher actually first joined TOPS back in 1995, when one sister-in-law, Marge Vatcher, encouraged her to give it a try to see if it could help her get her weight under control. For the next 13 years, Vatcher continued to have her ups and downs as she struggled to take off weight.
In 2008, she was a quarter-pound shy of 245 pounds, the heaviest she ever was. Her doctor told her she had to start taking medication for the high cholesterol levels she had developed.
Her excessive weight led to her becoming depressed about life.
“Even though my husband Ray loved me for who I was, I didn’t love me for who I had become with all my weight gain,” she said.
Around that time, another sister-in-law, Valerie Dyke, handed Vatcher a gym pass for the Humber Community YMCA and told her she needed to start incorporating exercise into her weight-loss efforts. Dyke told Vatcher she would go with her.
Vatcher’s first reaction was to use the very reason she should have went to the gym as an excuse not to go.
“I was so big, I said ‘I can’t go to the ‘Y’ looking like this,’” said Vatcher.
She did go. She and Dyke became faithful gym rats, going there for five days a week for the next four years. She also began walking regularly with a member of her TOPS group and set up a treadmill in her house.
The pounds began to come off and, three months after being prescribed those high-cholesterol pills, she was off them.
While the exercise was a big help, it was the continued motivation from the weekly TOPS chapter meetings that Vatcher says kept her going. The operative word in TOPS, she said is, “sensibly.” Using Canada’s Food Guide as culinary counsel, Vatcher said the key is to eat healthy foods in moderation.
For the past three years, Vatcher has been a leader in her TOPS chapter, of which there are five in Corner Brook that meet once a week.
Earlier this year, at the annual Provincial Recognition Days meeting, she weighed in for the biggest TOPS get-together of the year. She had lost 85 pounds and had finally achieved her weight-loss goal. Although it is not recorded at the provincial level, Vatcher’s local chapter records show she has actually now shed a total of 98 pounds.
She is now at the weight she wants to maintain.
For achieving her goal, she graduated at the provincial event to being a member of Keeping Pounds Off Sensibly (KOPS).
Vatcher’s 19-year weight-loss story is actually award-winning. At the Provincial Recognition Days this year, she was presented with the Frances Murphy Memorial Award, given to the TOPS graduate who took the longest to finally reach their weight-loss goal.
“I had no idea I was going to win that award and was totally shocked,” she said.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Vatcher’s size kept her from doing much, even walking. Three years ago, she decided to try the Corner Brook Downtown Dash and trained for it through the “Couch to 5K” program at the YMCA. She finished the five-kilometre road race and has been back to do it every summer since, completing her latest race in July in 32 minutes.
She knows she will never really cross the finish line in her battle to maintain her healthy weight. It’s a race she runs every day, but she is reassured to know TOPS will always be in her corner.
“I’m there now for a lifetime because TOPS helps keep me under control,” she said.