POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 12, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 8:39 p.m. HST, May 18, 2011
Charissa Potrafka shed tears of joy when she no longer needed to request a seat belt extender on an airplane. It's that type of success that's kept her going for the past year and a half, during which she managed to shed 125 pounds.
Her decision to change her life was sparked while watching Season 4 of "The Biggest Loser."
"I'm a huge fan," she said. "There were people as big as I was on the show. And, they didn't die — they survived. It gave me hope that I could make changes, too."
She auditioned for the NBC show six seasons later but didn't land a spot. Potrafka was disappointed that she wasn't selected for the show, but that didn't stop her from setting goals. She started her weight-loss journey at 5 foot 2 and 290 pounds, and her successful transformation landed her a spot on a 200-mile overnight trek with "Biggest Loser" alumni.
She's heading to Southern California this week, where she will spend up to 30 hours with former show participants, riding in decorated vans at the Ragnar Relay Southern California. The trek starts in Huntington Beach on Friday and ends Saturday at San Diego's Coronado Island Hotel.
Potrafka said she has been overweight all of her life, "but I was not morbidly obese in high school," she said.
The weight crept on about six years ago when she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
"I was in bed most of the time. I'd literally sleep about 20 hours a day. I was consuming caffeine and sugar to try to stay awake. I gained 90 pounds in a year and a half," she said.
The 41-year-old Ewa Beach resident began with realistic expectations. In the beginning, she walked short distances or participated in water aerobics, exercises that were easier on the joints due to the body's buoyancy in water. She continued to push herself and completed the most recent Honolulu Marathon. Next, she is hoping to complete a triathlon.
She moved to the islands a few months ago from Phoenix, enticed by the idea of being able to work year-round in an outdoor setting that would help her maintain her new healthy lifestyle.
Results came when she mixed exercise with better eating habits. "I started eating less, more whole foods," she added. "At this point, I don't eat much processed food at all. So much packaged, processed food is sold as diet food. It's not healthy and not the best choice. It may be low in fat but still contains lots of sugar, sodium or artificial sweeteners," she said.
Potrafka realizes that her past attempts failed because she didn't have patience. "This time around, I've taken time to enjoy the process." She created a photo book and journal to log her progress. "I can see how far I've come and celebrate," she said.
She also keeps a pair of her "big pants," noting that she can now fit her entire body in one of the legs.
She works as a nanny, but hopes to one day pursue a career as a personal trainer. "I'd like to focus on people that need to lose 50 pounds or more," she said. "If I can do it, anyone can do it."
"Be Well" features inspiring stories of people dealing with health challenges. Reach Nancy Arcayna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 529-4808.