By Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — If Annelise Woitulewicz doesn’t inspire you to get off the couch and get moving, who could?
The 43-year-old Taylor, Mich., mom competed in her first triathlon, the Trek Women’s Triathlon in Monroe. She swum half a mile in Lake Erie, biked 12 miles through Sterling State Park and then ran 3.6 miles.
Impressive enough. But what makes it incredible is that just six months ago, Woitulewicz was 90 pounds heavier and couldn’t run for five minutes on a treadmill.
And only nine years ago, she was fighting breast cancer, which was followed by a cascade of other medical problems including a suspicious mass on her ovaries that led to a full hysterectomy, and another along her cranial nerve that resulted in a loss of hearing in her right ear as well as vertigo and balance problems. Woitulewicz also had surgery on both her feet because of nerve problems.
With each diagnosis, she became less active and, as the years passed, the weight piled on until she realized how unhealthy she’d become.
“I think a lot of people, we have this all-or-nothing attitude,” said Woitulewicz, whose kids are 16, 19 and 20. “We say, ‘If I’m not doing anything, I might as well just eat.’
“Balance has been a huge issue for me. I let it get in the way of doing things because I’m afraid of falling, and I started using it as an excuse. I didn’t see myself as heavy; I was in denial.”
Woitulewicz, who works as the technology director for Summit Academy Schools in Flat Rock and Romulus, finally saw herself for the person she’d become: out of shape and uncomfortable in her own skin.
“I started working out with a trainer at the YMCA in Southgate. My goal was to be able to walk in and do any class and not feel uncomfortable. I wanted to take yoga and kickboxing and not feel like I was too big or didn’t know what I was doing. I got really active.”
But getting in shape was slow at first. She accomplished it by creating small goals for herself.
The first one was to run for five minutes.
“I watch ‘The Biggest Loser’ and they all got on the treadmill and ran for five minutes, and I said, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I do it?’ I don’t understand why I can’t do it. I did three minutes, and my lungs were whistling. I did three minutes, and we stopped and I was disappointed.
“My trainer said, ‘Annelise, you ran today,’ ” reminding her that being able to run at all—even if only for three minutes—was an accomplishment.
By the end of March, she met her five-minute goal. And then, she discovered she could go even longer.
“One day, I was out with my timer, and … I thought I’ve gone this far, I’m just going to keep going. When I looked at my watch and it was 18 minutes. I was pretty proud.”
She ran her first 5k in May; her first triathlon in July; and Woitulewicz is signed up to run a half marathon Oct. 17 in the Detroit Free Press event.
“I can do anything I put my mind to do,” she said. “I know that and I preach that and I tell everyone I won’t ever let myself say I can’t do anything.”
She’s incorporated healthy eating habits into her regimen as well.
“I just make it count,” she said. “I eat whole real foods, and stay away from processed. It’s portion control.”
Woitulewicz says that she’d like to drop another 40 pounds, but that she’s trying not to make this lifestyle change only about the numbers on the scale.
“My goal is to be fit and healthy and strong. I may not be able to run fast, but I can run. And I can wear a tank top and I can feel proud because I have muscles.”
The clothes, that’s an added perk.
“I went shopping and I bought a cute little dress, and it’s a size I haven’t worn in a long time. I was darned proud to be wearing a 14. My wedding dress was a size 16.”
What girl can’t relate to that? A healthy body as well as a new wardrobe. Time to lace up my sneakers.