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.
So 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.
Now 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.”