happen because they weren’t setting good examples themselves.
“That caused us to start conversations about getting healthy,” LaDonna said. “So my husband and I joined a gym and got a personal trainer, and we are each 65 pounds lighter.”
Ladonna, 40, and John Philip, 39, were high school sweethearts who later married. As young adults, they focused on the growth of their business (Clarkton Drug) and their family (three boys.) But focusing on that good growth led to the bad growth of their waistlines.
John had always struggled with his weight, but in his twenties and thirties, it had gotten out of control, and LaDonna had let each pregnancy add 20 pounds to her frame.
“I thought Well, I gave birth to three kids, and this is my lot – this is what I’m left with,” she said. “I am what I am.”
What she was, was 170 pounds heavy. John weighed 270.
“I would just be so tired all day,” John said. “And you know what the problem is, but you’re too tired to get up and do something about it.”
Over the next few weeks came the epiphany; they had been hurting themselves and their children, and they and the family they worked so hard to build strong and happy were on a downhill slide toward morbid obesity, diabetes and a lifetime of health problems.
But they had the power to turn all that around.
“A lot of our problem was that we didn’t pay attention to our nutrition,” John said. “Now LaDonna and I are definitely paying more attention to our nutrition, we’re making healthier choices, and our children are making healthier choices because they see our example.”
As a pharmacist, John is on the frontline of the obesity epidemic in rural America. Every day he sees people who through poor diet and exercise are destroying themselves, and as soon as he realized he was actually one of those people, he vowed to pull his family away from that trap.
“It’s all about making that first move, taking that first step and making that first, big commitment. Once you make that commitment – really commit 100 percent, then it’ll happen. It will just happen.”
People give up on themselves, the Stolls believe. They write off the dreams of their youth, their visions of happy and healthy adulthood, and trade it in for failure. The slide is gradual – over decades – but insidious and more powerful every year. Escape is not very easy, but very possible.
“It all starts with diet and exercise,” John said. “That should be the foundation of healthcare. No doubt that medication has its place in society and in healthcare, but you could potentially take care of most of your ailments by watching what you eat and exercising.”
John has found himself to be an inspiration to some of his customers.
“It’s fun when patients come into the store and they look at me and ask how much weight I’ve lost,” he said. “And then they come in later and say, ‘well, I’m trying this…’”
LaDonna found strength in her desire to enjoy life with her children.
“It became about longevity,” she said. “I have these children now, and I need to take care of me so I can live life with them, and not just sit and watch them.
“We want to enjoy life with our children. We want to take vacations and hike the Grand Canyon one day – we don’t want to just go to the overlook! We don’t want to just see life, we want to do it all, we want to be a part of everything.
“We want to get out and ride bikes with our kids, we want to run around the block with them. We want to swim and have the strength and endurance to do stuff.”
LaDonna lost her weight quickly – in about four months. It wasn’t easy, but she surprised herself with what she could do. Early on, she dared herself to go jogging around their Inman Lake home. She made it to the end of her street, and kept going… she ran another block or two, and kept going… she found herself doing far more than she had thought she could and it excited her.
Out of breath and full of joy, she called her husband at work and gave him the news; “I just ran around the neighborhood!”
Defying their own pessimism about their abilities, LaDonna registered herself and John for the Tim Reilly 5k Run at the Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville last November.
We still have chips in our kitchen,” LaDonna said. “But now we always have a bowl of fresh fruit. When you go to the grocery store, buy an apple instead of the chips.”
By simply not drinking sugar soda, she believes she lost 15 pounds.
“If you don’t want to sweat it out, don’t put it in your mouth,” she said. “That’s what it amounts to. It took us about three weeks to learn our bodies, learn what we could do physically and to learn our nutrition.”
The family shuns fried foods now, and enjoys baked or grilled dinners. Ethan has qualified for the Central football team, just one bonus of their new lives, the Stoll’s believe.
“Now that Ethan is making lifestyle changes and watching his portions, and paying attention to his nutrition, his brothers are seeing him and they’re learning,” LaDonna said.
The greatest excuse people have for not exercising is they don’t think they have the time, but to their surprise, the Stolls easily find the time – even on vacation. During a visit to Walt Disney World, mom and dad worked out at the hotel gym each morning.
“It made our days at Disney so much better,” LaDonna said. “We were able to be better for our children all day because we had taken care of ourselves that morning.”
LaDonna reflects on how her outlook on life and her family’s feelings about themselves have changed.
“We used to sit on the beach with our kids, and we would see people running,” she said. “We would think; ‘I wish we could be that person.’ Now when we sit on the beach and watch our kids play, and we see someone running by, we’re like, ‘We are that person!’
“It’s a different world – it’s so much different. We just feel so much better. We now have greater stamina to do the things we love to do and enjoy life.”
It all started when young Ethan asked a simple question, but it took strength and the courage of a family to rescue themselves from a nationwide epidemic, to first of all believe that they could live happier lives, and then to wrest their health from the jaws of a modern society designed to destroy it.
Ethan, LaDonna and John will take on the 15 miles of the Take the Lake Walk / Run Personal Endurance Challenge Saturday and will ride 22 miles on Sunday. They will do this because they believe they can, and because they have prepared and trained. Rather than watching the world go by, LaDonna, John, Ethan, Wesley and Alex Stoll will be the people taking part in life.
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After spending several years at the very bottom of the County Health Ranking -- as the least healthy county in all of North Carolina -- we have improved our lifestyles enough to move up to 96, and we are proud to be so healthy!
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