Penny Leaver of Farmersville, Texas, is fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter. After losing nearly 160 pounds, Leaver says her weight loss and the pandemic inspired her to finally take the leap.
Leaver grew up healthy, counting calories and playing sports throughout high school. She always had dreams of being a first responder, particularly a firefighter. However, once Leaver went to college, her weight gain began, and that goal suddenly seemed unattainable. No longer living in a house with restrictive eating habits as the norm took its toll. According to Leaver, it started with the typical “freshman 15” weight gain, but quickly became more serious. Leaver says, “..From there, it just started spiraling out of control and it never got better.”
Leaver hit her highest weight of 316lbs four years ago, after several failed attempts at dieting.
‘I Hated Myself’, Leaver Recalls How She Felt At Her Highest Weight
“I hated myself. I hated the way I looked. I hated the way I felt,” she says. Leaver started having health problems, including concerning heart issues that can cause heart attacks. While her doctors advised her to lose weight, she didn’t see how that would help the situation. That is, until one professional gave it to her straight. Leaver explains,
“Nobody really explained to me why or how or what exactly I needed to do until the last time I went to the hospital and the cardiologist was like, ‘You’re not going to live to your next birthday if you don’t get your weight and your life under control,'” Leaver recalls. “And that was what I needed to hear, to be able to be motivated to start something new after failing so many times before…I was 40 years old and the thought of not making it to 41 made it clear that I needed to do something.”
So, the work began. Leaver signed up for a weight loss program called Optavia that she heard about through a friend. According to her, she noticed a change immediately. “I had so much natural energy,” she says. “.. I started feeling amazing and I think that helped even more than the actual scale.” Within a month, Leaver was 24 pounds down and her blood pressure returned to normal. “I think the pivotal point for me was realizing that this was not a diet, that it was a lifestyle change,” she explains.
Becoming a Firefighter After Losing 156 Pounds
When the pandemic hit, Leaver started to struggle with falling back into old habits of boredom eating, as did much of the world. “I was stressing about money and trying to find a job and decide what I wanted to do with my life,” says Leaver. With some encouragement from her Optavia coach, she realized the world was her oyster. Leaver continues, “That was when I decided that I was going to get serious about getting physically fit and apply with the fire department.” Leaver began prepping for the agility test that firefighters take, which she passed in September. Additionally, she finished her first round in the fire academy as a volunteer firefighter. Leaver is getting ready to start EMT training and her second round at the fire academy to earn her full certification.
“I’m very proud of how far I’ve come,” she says of the experience. “I never would’ve been able to do that if I hadn’t lost the weight.”