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by Cheryl Wagner

May 1, 2007

(Reprinted from “The Swimmer’s Ear”, newsletter of the Potomac Valley Masters Committee, December 2005)

A People Magazine writer asked me for potential interview subjects who had lost a lot of weight through swimming. I put out the word and heard from many PV swimmers who lost an impressive number of pounds and kept them off. With the holidays behind us (as well as a few extra pounds), I decided this would be a good time to share some of their stories.

Andrew Johnson , who completed the Tampa Bay 24 mile swim, the Potomac Swim and numerous other long distance events wrote: "I was up to 232lbs in January of 1995. I lost 70lbs and got down to 162lbs by my 30th Birthday on May 17, 1995. I used Swimming, proper diet (Zone'ish), and running. I am currently about 175lbs and just turned 40."

Barbara Clifford-Dicks , who has swum an impressive number of top ten swims said, "I gained 75 pounds with my pregnancy and now I only have about 15 left to loose. I was put on bed rest for my pregnancy. It has taken me 2 years so far. I get up at 5 am to swim 3 days a week. They aren't taking bathing suit shots are they?"

Jason Lee contributed the following, "I weighed 230 pounds in high school and now, at 48, am about 190. I have been swimming between 4-6 days a week since I was 22. About 3-4K. As one who studies obesity for CDC, the problem is not getting people to loose half of their body weight (one would have to be morbidly, morbidly obese to do that--otherwise it would be quite unhealthy--imagine a 200 lb person going to 100lb!) The important thing is to get people to maintain a healthy weight by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and swimming is a great way to do that. Jason Lee, Ph.D."

Kate Fisken sent me her story. "In the summer of 2004, after seeing my orthopedist, four neurosurgeons and a pain management doctor, I found myself faced with a medical condition that required me to make some immediate choices and commit myself to a healthier lifestyle.  All but one neurosurgeon, wanted to operate right away to fuse my 4th lumbar and correct a Level II Spondolothesis.  I shuddered at the thought.  I discussed the situation with my physical therapist, my family physician, my pain management doctor, and my husband and decided to try aggressive physical therapy rehabilitation and begin a weight loss program.  My goal was to strengthen my core muscles and lose 30 pounds.  Thus, I began physical therapy 3 times a week and an aggressive weight loss program---consuming 1,000 calories per day.   To manage my constant sciatic pain, I chose to have 2 epidurals, three weeks apart.

By October 2004 I had lost 15 pounds and at the urging of my "medical team", I began a weekly swimming program on my own at the MontgomeryCountyAquaticCenter.   Since I hadn't been swimming regularly since my high school competition days, I was very out of shape.  I set out a training plan for myself--increasing my laps by ten each week.   I continued physical therapy (down to 1 day per week), swimming and dieting and by June 2005 I lost all 30 pounds and had cut my pain medicine dosage in half!

At this point I was concerned that if I did not put more physical exercise in my daily routine, I would slowly gain back my weight.  So I decided to set a new goal for myself---- to train for an open water swim, the 2006 Chesapeake 1 Mile Challenge.  I joined the Montgomery County Ancient Mariners and am now swimming 2 days per week, lifting weights 2 days per week, and watching my food intake.  Additionally, my physical therapist volunteered to monitor and guide my training for next year's open water swim. Yes, my return to swimming changed my life ---being a major positive force--- not only has it helped me lose weight and keep it off, but I have also made some new friends. I still have occasional sciatic "flare-ups", but now I am able to physically do things I could never think of doing a year ago.  I look forward to swimming next June's  Chesapeake 1 Mile Challenge, starting Pilate classes this spring, and swimming competitively with the Ancient Mariners team soon!  At age 63, I have finally found my sport and echo the mantra "swim for life".

William Sax , 36, sent the following narrative, "At age thirty, I needed to stop smoking and lose weight.  I knew I must leave this bad habit behind in order to exercise effectively.  Swimming was a key part of the process of quitting.  In three months I was swimming 3000yd workouts and had lost an initial 30 pounds.  My total weight loss was 45 pounds. After swimming on my own for two years, I joined Masters.  The challenge of competition keeps me in the pool, fit and feeling great!"

Jen Dostal wrote, "Swimming was a critical part of my losing 80 pounds a couple of years ago. I was too heavy and having problems with my feet because they couldn't handle all the extra weight, but I couldn't lose weight without exercise. According to the scale I'm still overweight, but a heck of a lot more fit. I play rugby and that takes up at lot of my time, I still swim in the off-season though."

Margot Bauman said, "I joined Weight Watchers before I joined the masters team. Still, I'm losing way more swimming than before I joined the team."

Alexa Reed wrote, "I was a high school swimmer, then off for almost 10 years, during which time I gained about 70 lbs.  I got back into shape and lost most of the weight when I joined FXCM and swam 3 times per week.  I also did some cross-training and trained for triathlons."