Carol

My entire family struggles with weight. My parents were very large, and weight was always an issue for my siblings and me. My father died from diabetes complications when he was 51.

I knew fitness was the way to control my weight. I was very fit in my younger years. I spent 10 years in the Army as a military musician, playing clarinet and saxophone. My husband, Scott, was in Army infantry, and we met in Berlin.

Alana T

When I retired from the Army, I went to work for the International School of Aerobic Training to choreograph fitness dance routines. For 15 years, I traveled around the world teaching American step aerobic dance methods to other countries. I was body builder material.

Then, I had foot surgery and couldn't work out for a year. My husband, still in the Army, was deployed to Korea and then to Desert Storm. I was raising two daughters with my husband away and going to school to become a physical therapy assistant. My mom became ill. The weight came on.

My legs started swelling. I had really bad heartburn and I stopped breathing at night. I was 52 and weighed 265 pounds.

The hardest thing about gaining weight was the shame. I was an exercise professional. A role model for other people. How could I let this happen?

It was hard to move around. I was constantly sweating. I looked in the mirror and didn't recognize myself.

Then I thought, I'm too young. I'm not doing this.

I started walking hard, two to three miles every day. I lost about 15 pounds, but it wasn't enough. My metabolism was slow, I was anemic and I had vitamin deficiencies.

I saw a neighbor at a social function who looked about half her former size. She said she'd had gastric bypass surgery.

I wanted to learn more.

If I go anywhere for that, I thought, I'm going to Vanderbilt. I know the reputation and people who had surgery there.

The doctor at Vanderbilt said I was a perfect candidate. You're not afraid to exercise and work hard, he said. I decided on the sleeve procedure [to remove part of my stomach].

The Vanderbilt program is terrific. They don't rush you right into it. I was comfortable there. The doctors and staff treated me like a person, always with dignity and compassion. The dietitian really clicked with me.

I had some fear of putting weight back on. It's hard to change old habits at restaurants and parties. After work, I'd walk into our empty house feeling hungry and go straight to the closet for snacks.

Now, I have a protein bar or a piece of fruit before I leave for work. I eat proteins first, then fruit and veggies. No pasta. I drink lots of water.

If I have a question, I can email the Vanderbilt team and get an answer in 24 hours. I go back once a year, but they tell me to come whenever I want. I'll be calling the dietitian when I start training for the Nashville Rock n Roll Half Marathon.

This surgery has made me feel younger like I'm 30 again. It was the best thing I ever did. I feel healthier and move better. It's nice to look down and see my knees and toes.

When I was overweight, I couldn't wear the beautiful wedding rings, watch and bracelet my husband had given me. It was embarrassing. I remember the day when they fit again.

Being able to shop in a regular store is good, too. I can put on a size 8 and it looks great.

I work hard to maintain my weight. My motivation is the way I feel every day and the way my husband looks at me.

I run three miles a day and train for 5K and 10K races. I had fitness, lost it and got it back again.

This is my second chance at life.