Losing Weight: Gaining a New Life

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Five years ago, Kourtney Kelly bellied up to Wicked Twister, a roller coaster ride at Cedar Point amusement park not too far from her home in Toledo.

It was a tradition to go with friends and family several times a year, and though she’d been refused from three other rides at the park already that day because of her weight, she believed this one was still okay. She fit into it the last time she was there and had a great ride.

This time was different. She was even heavier, and as she struggled to squeeze all 327 pounds of herself into the confines of the seat, she realized the bar was not going to fit over her. Two attendants tried but were unable to make it click.

“Sorry, maam,” one said. “You’ll have to get off.”

Humiliated, Kelly ambled her way off the ride platform where her friends sat dumbstruck in their cars. She was in tears. “I had to do this walk of shame and everyone is waiting on you ’cuz they’re ready to go,” she says.

Though painful, getting kicked off the ride was just the kick Kelly needed to turn that walk of shame into a march toward health. She’d been considering lap band surgery to correct her weight problem, which was exacerbated by her first jobs after graduating from Xavier in 2003 with a criminal justice degree. As a corrections officer at juvenile detention facilities in Ohio and Indiana, she sat at a desk for up to 16 hours a day and had access to the calorie-rich food provided for the juvenile inmates, which not only kept them fed but intentionally kept them overly full. She ate out of boredom.

Her family had been telling her she needed to lose weight. Her friends worried about her health. Her efforts at dieting had failed. At 327 pounds, she was the heaviest she’d ever been. Her pants were a size 24.

courtney_slim2So Kelly, a high achiever who had earned a full tuition scholarship to Xavier, decided to change her life beginning with the surgery and immediately discovered two things: How to eat and how to kick.

The nutritionist she met with in preparation for the surgery taught her about healthy food. Choose protein, vegetables and fruit. Focus on quality, not quantity. Drop one bad habit at a time.

And a friend introduced her to Turbo Kick, an aerobic exercise routine. That first class was scary. “We go into this class and I’m in the back because I’m heavy, and I don’t know what I’m doing,” she says. “But the atmosphere was so welcoming, just trying the class was so much fun. The instructor comes over and says just keep moving. I loved it.”

She kept up the class and followed her nutritionist’s advice. First went the soda pop. The next month it was white carbs—bread, pasta, rice. Then fried foods and finally sweets.

The pounds began slipping away. By August of 2010, seven months after the Twister incident, she’d lost 60 pounds. Another 20 came off by December. She was on a path she could not reverse.

“I increased going to Turbo three to four times a week,” she says. “My clothes are fitting better. I started walking in the parks. I was cleared for the surgery and I asked my mother did I need it? I wanted to never be fat again, and she said you don’t need it, you just needed a wake-up call.”

Kelly earned a master’s in education and counseling that led to a job in Cincinnati as a case manager for Children’s Services in 2011. She also picked up a side job teaching Turbo Kick at the Duck Creek Y in Cincinnati, where she became one of the Y’s most popular fitness instructors.

kourtney_slimNow starting a new job with Children’s Services in Columbus, Kelly continues working out on her own while searching for another instructor position. She’s lost more than 125 pounds total. People started coming to her for advice, so she posts inspirational messages and tips on her Facebook page, Kourtney 100 Pounds Down Kelly, and reports she no longer gets kicked off amusement park rides.

“I tell new people to stick with it,” she says. She posts before and after pictures so they can see where she started out. She tells them it’s a matter of changing habits until the body doesn’t know any different. “It’s a way of life. I have to eat healthy or I just don’t feel right.”

Class Behind Bars: My Overnight Stay in County Lockup

It must have been later than midnight, and I was counting the squares on the ceiling. My sleeping bag was a few inches short of being long enough to cover both my toes and shoulders, and a dead spider lay on its back six inches from my face. My cellmate, who had smuggled in chewing gum, was popping it between her teeth.

There were no clocks, no windows. I could only guess the hour. Eventually, the tiles bled together under the fluorescent light, and the gum smacking turned into ambient noise. That’s when I finally fell asleep. Then I heard the gum pop again. And again. And again. And again.

The popping. I needed to get away, even if only for a minute. Irritated, I looked through the cell windows and saw a key on a table just outside. The woman in charge was asleep at the monitors near the key. Her cell phone was turned over so I couldn’t see the time.

Ready for a change of scenery, I pressed the red button above my cot to catch her attention. Her eyes were still closed. I pressed it again. Not even a stir. As I stared at the key and pressed the button for the third, fourth and fifth time, it occurred to me that the whole experiment might be a conspiracy in disguise, designed to keep me there until I lost my mind. I might not actually be getting out in the morning. She needs to wake up right now, I thought, before I do some damage to my cellmate’s gum stash. I started to panic, extending my finger and pressing the red button with more urgency.

She woke up, rubbed her eyes and glanced my way. My pointer finger was rigid, ready to press again in case she did not see me. Thankfully, she did. She walked over and unlocked my cell.

“Feeling it a little too hard?” she asked.

I shook my head yes, pulled up my four-sizes-too-big, jail-issued pants and walked out of that cell before my sentence was up. I only made it six hours behind bars.

Part I: Criminal History


My night in jail was part of Xavier’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange, a course taught inside of the Lebanon (Ohio) Correctional Institution by criminal justice adjunct professor Christine Shimrock. The exchange brings together University students and incarcerated students, and is designed to create dialogue between the two.

When my editor heard that the course culminated with an overnight stay in a county lockup in Mason, Ohio, about 20 miles north of campus, he thought it would be fun to send a writer along. Since none of my coworkers volunteered, I was nominated to cover the story—all 24 hours of it.

This semester, there were eight “outside students” in the class, and 10 “inside students.” The purpose of the overnight exercise, Shimrock says, is to get the outside students to see things from the inside students’ point of view. This is the eighth year that she’s organized the exercise for her students.

“It’s not supposed to scare or intimidate anyone,” she assured me by telephone a few weeks before. “But it’s pretty revealing—I try to simulate the real experience as much as possible. Students come out of this exercise with different perspectives.”

By the time I parked my car at the municipal court, I was nervous. The other students weren’t. They were chatting in a group outside the courthouse, saying things like, “This is way better than having to go to class,” and “So-and-so took this class last year, but he wouldn’t tell me any of the details.”

We walked in at 6:00 p.m., and police officers instructed us to go to the bathroom and change into orange slippers and baggy prison garb. After that, we were cuffed and told to wait silently on the cement benches for our turn to be fingerprinted and processed. We watched as police-trained K-9 units searched our belongings.

My pants were too big and my slippers didn’t fit. When my turn came and the officer waved me over, I thought about asking him for a new pair—preferably one that had two shoes of the same size. Then I saw the solitary confinement room behind him and decided against it. I knew it was going to be a long night.

Part II: Time Served

I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like to be incarcerated just because I spent an evening in a municipal court cell. County lockup isn’t the same thing as prison. Having sleeping bags or being allowed to buzz your guard to let you out isn’t the same thing as being in prison, either.

For me, the worst part was the mind-numbing boredom. The tile counting, the gum popping and the lack of windows turned minutes into 60 seconds of stretched-out nothingness. I never want to go back.

The best part happened the morning after, when I returned to get the students’ reactions. They were tired, but I could tell that they, unlike most who sleep in a jail cell, didn’t regret staying overnight. Certainly, everyone was happy to head home, but that happiness was undercut by the knowledge that the inside students couldn’t go home too. We left feeling lucky. We also left with a little more understanding of what life’s like on the inside—an important lesson for criminal justice majors.

“I recommend this class to anyone and everyone,” said one student. “I learned so much, and we became close with the inside students. They would be laughing at us right now if they saw how much we complained. This isn’t anything compared to what they go through.”