A few years ago, Cathi Lee couldn’t stand up for more than 10 seconds at a time, let alone exercise.
Now, the Waterville woman is at the gym at 4:30 a.m. five days a week before heading to work at Colby College’s Alumni Relations office in Waterville. At age 49, she has shed more than 300 pounds, is more active than ever and is determined to keep the weight off.
Lee’s accomplishment was recognized Wednesday by one of television’s most recognizable personalities on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” during a special on dramatic weight loss. The show was taped earlier this year.
“I’ve been overweight since I was 7,” Lee said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I went on my first diet when I was 8 years old.”
Nothing seemed to work, and Lee said she just kept getting heavier until she reached 506 pounds.
“I guess I saw the writing on the wall,” Lee said.
She had written a brief blurb on Oprah’s Web site about two years ago, but it was just recently that she was contacted by producers about possibly being on the show. A phone call one Saturday night turned into plane tickets to Chicago
by Sunday evening, and from there it was a whirlwind of Oprah magic.
“I was there for four days,” Lee said. “It was just the most incredible experience. “[Oprah] could not have been more generous. She was so funny. She’s just like she is on the show.”
Lee even got to go shopping at Macy’s department store before it opened and said she tried on about 200 different items. Trying on clothes is something she loves to do now.
“I can go anywhere and buy clothes now,” Lee said. “At my heaviest I had to purchase clothes by mail from a catalog in California.”
A few years ago Lee realized it was time to do something about her weight, but she was afraid of the risks associated with gastric bypass surgery. Lee turned to the Internet and found thousands of weight loss plans.
She knew it was going to take some research to find a plan that worked with her personality, body type and emotional state.
“I didn’t diet the first year,” Lee said. “I was preparing myself mentally along with what I had to do physically.”
She also didn’t tell any of her family members what she was about to do because she was afraid of failure. Lee also vowed not to start her weight loss plan on Jan. 1 or a Monday.
After a year of dieting, Lee had taken off 90 pounds by weaning herself off something each week that she knew she could live without and learning to eat breakfast – something she hadn’t done in 25 years.
She ate as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, shied away from red meat and instead turned to fish and whole grains.
“For the first year, I was not physically capable of exercising,” she said.
Then Lee began to walk. One-eighth of a mile at first was all she could muster, and her knees still hurt. But slowly it got easier.
“I hadn’t been able to stand up straight for years,” Lee said. “I thought it was the greatest feeling.”
Now Lee said she feels fantastic and makes sure that she stays active in order to maintain her weight.
“If I don’t go to a gym, I spend an hour dancing around my apartment,” Lee said. “When I come out of that gym after a 21/2-hour workout I feel incredibly powerful.”
Although hers is a story of success, the University of Maine and Thomas College graduate said she knows how easy it is to give up.
“I was always very withdrawn, very quiet and very isolated,” Lee said.
Now her life has completely turned around, and family and friends who are around her age have a hard time keeping up.
“They’re starting to slow down and I’m just taking off,” Lee said.
Aimee Dolloff may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8130.