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One step at a time: Theresa Brandt changes lifestyle to conquer Avon Walk

As Theresa Brandt stood under the bright pink arch at Charlotte’s Avon Walk for Breast Cancer cheering and waving a pom-pom around, she noticed the people crossing the finish line were smiling, hugging and crying — tears of joy that is.
At that moment, the Salisbury resident decided she didn’t want to be standing on the sidelines when the walk took place a year later.
“I started talking to everybody who had ever done the walk, asking them for information about how you do it and where the stops are,” she said. “By the third hour, I signed up.”
After signing up for the 2-day, 39-mile walk, Brandt realized she’d have to kick her “couch potato” ways.
“I said, ‘Now I’ve got a goal, how am I going to reach it?’” she said.
For years, the 57-year-old old mother of two had tried fad diets and hit the gym without much success. She’d drop a few pounds and gain it back.
But this time she’s planning to succeed by eating healthy and walking on a regular basis.
Since joining Weight Watchers about two months ago, Brandt has already dropped 20 pounds.
“I decided to lose weight this way rather than do gastric bypass because I want to be healthy,” she said.
The convenience of the online program has made it easier for her to keep track of what she eats.
“I’m not one to sit in a meeting and say ‘Yay, I lost a quarter of a pound,’” Brandt said. “I like that I don’t have to drive anywhere and I can access it anywhere. It’s great because you put in the numbers off the nutrition label and it will calculate how many points per serving.”
Brandt hopes to lose an additional 60 pounds by the end of 2014.
In order to accomplish that goal, Brandt has also started walking several times a week. When the weather’s nice she strolls around parks like Dan Nicholas with her husband, Joe.
But most of the time she walks indoors at a cardiac rehabilitation facility in High Point near Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine, where Brandt works as a registered nurse in the pediatric triage clinic.
“Walking is easier for me,” she said. “I have fibromyalgia and arthritis in my joints, so I can’t do anything like running because it’s too hard on my body.”
Brandt has already built up to walking about 3 miles at a time, a feat she admits would not have been possible two months ago.
“I can definitely tell a difference,” she said. “I’ve started to punch up my pace a little bit.”
Next, Brandt plans to start doing Zumba Gold at home.
“It was meant for people with disabilities and seniors, which is maybe not as sexy, but I’ll do anything just to keep moving,” she said.
The decision to do the Avon Walk may have kicked off Brandt’s decision to get healthy, but it’s her mother, Mary, who serves as her primary motivator.
Mary attended the walk last October as a one-year survivor of breast cancer. She was one of the lucky ones. Her mother and daughter-in-law both died from the disease.
“They had a pin that said ‘Survivor’ on it, so I got one and pinned it on my mother and the whole time I was thinking ‘How many people don’t get to do this,’” Brandt said.
By participating in the walk, Brandt hopes to raise more awareness for breast cancer.
“Everybody knows somebody who’s had breast cancer,” she said. “It should always be something we’re looking out for because it doesn’t distinguish, it doesn’t discriminate – nobody is safe.”
As a nurse, Brandt said she’s seen just how devastating breast cancer can be.
“I’ve seen women ravaged by breast cancer with gaping wounds,” she said. “I want to help raise money for research so that maybe we will find a cure in my lifetime, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Participants have to raise at least $1,800 to take part in the Avon Walk, but Brandt has set her sights on $2,500.
“Heath care is ruled by money,” she said. “The best thing I can do it put myself out there, put a face on it.”
People can donate to Brandt’s walk by visiting avonwalk.org/goto/brandtjourney.
“None of the donations touch my hands,” she said.
Brandt said she’ll walk about 26 miles during the first day of the walk and wrap up the remaining 13 the next day.
She said during her four hours volunteering at the finish line last year she didn’t meet a single person who regretted doing it.
“There’s so much joy at the end,” she said. “There’s a lot of optimism and camaraderie; it’s really amazing.
“I’m really psyched about it.”
Undergoing knee replacement surgery about a year ago only adds to Brandt’s motivation to get healthy.
“It used to be bone on bone,” she said. “That’s something you have to experience to appreciate how painful that is.”
Brandt said the knee got that way due to obesity, trauma, inactivity and aging.
She doesn’t want her new knee to end up like that. Plus, she wants to be able to keep up with her 17-month-old granddaughter.
“They say 50s are the new 30s,” she said. “We can look forward to a life of longevity more so than generations beforehand.
“I figure if I complete this walk and start eating better I’ll be a poster child for middle-aged health.”
Brandt has changed her eating habits by limiting intake of sodium, fat, sugar and carbohydrates.
“Grocery shopping always takes a lot longer because you’ve got to read labels,” she said. “It’s a complete lifestyle change.”
Brandt hasn’t had much trouble sticking to her diet and exercise plans because of the support from her family.
Her husband, Joe, eats what she eats and often drives to High Point to go walking with her after she gets off work.
“This man tells me I’m gorgeous no matter where I am,” she said. “Any part of the day, no matter what I weigh.”
Brandt calls Joe her “biggest cheerleader.”
“He tells me ‘You can do this, you can do anything you set your mind to,’” she said. “He’s there all the way.”
Joe said he helps to make sure his wife is eating good foods and keeping portion sizes in check.
“I just try to keep her willpower up and make sure she stays positive,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories that will feature local residents’ experience with weight loss and fitness. The stories will appear on the People page each Sunday.

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