"I have been battling my weight for as long as I can remember. I learned early on that I needed to be very active and eat healthy to be able to maintain a healthy weight. I played sports through high school, and started going to the YMCA regularly when I was 14 years old. I worked at the YMCA for 5 years starting when I was 16 through part of my years in college, which showed me the value of being part of the YMCA family, and I have almost continuously been a member since.

"Flash forward several years, and my life changed dramatically when I was pregnant with my son and working as a home care nurse in Hartford. I was driving to see a patient when a car ran into mine and took off. I was rushed to the emergency room and long story short, I was then on bed rest until I delivered my son, 17 weeks later. He is a very healthy 12-year-old boy now, thank goodness!

"As for me, I struggled for those 17 weeks with not being able to work, not being able to go to the gym, not being able to be active. I baked and ate a lot, mostly unhealthy food, and in turn gained approximately 70 pounds during that pregnancy. When I delivered my son, I realized how much my priorities needed to shift. Work and going to the gym did not come first anymore. My family came first, and a close second was my full-time nursing career. I needed to figure out how to fit in going to the gym, and I often didn't find the time. I was also not feeling like myself -- I was more tired and weaker than usual, struggling to lose the weight I gained from my pregnancy, and I was not recovering from my delivery the way I thought I should be based on my medical experience. I decided to see a doctor, and was ultimately diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis, a type of hypothyroidism, which can happen on occasion after having a baby. I knew this could make it harder to lose weight, but was confident that as I started on treatment and increased my workouts while improving my diet, I would be on the right track.

"So my journey to weight loss began, and it was a slow and steady battle for about 5 years, during which time I lost close to 40 pounds. I then became pregnant with my daughter, and fortunately was able to remain active and working during my entire pregnancy, but did gain some weight back. I delivered a very healthy girl. About 3 days after delivery I woke up with pain, swelling, and stiffness in my hands. Within 2 days this stiffness and pain spread to the rest of my body which made it hard to walk and move at all. I once again headed to see my doctor and was later diagnosed by a rheumatologist with a type of inflammatory arthritis, an autoimmune condition, said to be most likely be caused by the changes my body went through after delivery. At this time I realized that my body and my life had forever changed, and my journey to becoming healthier inside and out was going to be more challenging.

"I also knew that I wouldn't change a thing, because what I got in return was worth it. My daughter is now 7, I am over 100 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight, I am stronger than I ever was, healthier that I have ever been, and I have won my first Slimdown! It took me the 7 years to figure out my new body, how to work with it, what I personally required to be my healthiest, while balancing being a full time mom, wife, and full-time nurse.

"The Slimdown challenge, along with my fabulous teammates, empowered me to take my workouts to new levels and try new things. I owe a lot of my success to the support of my loved ones, teammates, and the incredible instructors at the YMCA. I have a lot of thanks and gratitude for Jackie, who is not only a great fitness director, but has been my inspiring and motivating personal trainer. Jackie, among all of the other fabulous trainers and instructors at the YMCA, has not only motivated me to be healthier and stronger, but have made all of my experiences at the YMCA fun.

"My biggest hope from this is really two things - most importantly for my children to learn that we will all face unexpected challenges, but we can learn how to manage them, persevere, and become stronger with greater endurance because of them. Second, I hope they see how important it is to take care of ourselves, be active, and be healthy, as we only have one body. Living a healthy life helps us mentally, builds our resiliency, and makes us stronger so we are able to launch over those speed bumps when they come our way. Best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy 2019 and beyond."