KSL Radio, April 17, 2005, Host Doug Wright
Doug: Welcome to the program; great to have you along today on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values. A special guest has joined us; the author of Running with Angels: The Inspiring Journey of a Woman Who Turned Personal Tragedy into Triumph over Obesity, and Pamela Hansen is here with us. Pamela, welcome to the program. It's great to have you join us on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values.
Pamela: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Doug: Over the recent conference weekend I was mentioning to you that, boy, the people at Deseret Book--and in this case it's released under the imprint of Shadow Mountain--are very, very excited about this book. And we actually had the chance to talk about it, even on the air, with a few of the people from Deseret Book, and we're just delighted to welcome you here. Let's get a little background on you. You grew up in Salt Lake City, correct?
Pamela: I did.
Doug: And went to which schools?
Pamela: I graduated from Skyline High School and went to the University of Utah for a little while, graduated from BYU. So I'm local.
Doug: I understand elementary education degree.
Doug: See I can relate to that. Almost everybody in my family, my wife, my mother, my sister-in-law, everybody, that's what they did. They taught elementary education.
Pamela: Well good for them.
Pamela: We love teachers.
Doug: But you spent a lot of time at home as well raising the family.
Pamela: I did.
Doug: Yeah. And then I understand you and your husband, Mark, are living in Orem right now.
Pamela: We do.
Doug: All right. Now let's go back and find out a little bit more about you. We've got Running with Angels, and then the subtitle indicates quite a bit. You're a person who triumphed over obesity. Let's go back, and tell us a little bit about that time period of your life.
Pamela: Weight has always been a struggle for me but never really an issue until I had twin daughters sixteen years ago. One of them died from a heart defect, and the roller coaster of emotions that I experienced from the loss of this baby as well as taking care of another infant and an older toddler and trying to feed her around the clock every two hours was just overwhelming sometimes. And I turned to food for comfort.
Pamela: And so pretty soon I had gained about a hundred pounds.
Doug: These personal tragedies. Let's talk a little bit more about that. That had to be tough. A tough, tough time.
Pamela: It was really tough. And then a few years later we had another daughter who went undiagnosed for a year and a half with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. We went to doctor after doctor. They did scans and x-rays, gave her prosthetics to try to help, and they didn't know what was wrong.
Pamela: So we finally, at a family party, asked a relative, you know, "Can you just take a look at this foot and see what you think is wrong?" because she was limping, she was holding it real rigid. And he said, "I think she's got arthritis.
Pamela: And I said, "That's a grandparent disease."
Pamela: And he said, "No, it's really not." So we got hooked up with a doctor, and that's been a real challenge, too. And then a few years later we had another daughter that had a little bump on her hand, and we thought that was arthritis, too, but went in and she was diagnosed with a very rare disease called Ollier's disease. There are just a few others in the whole intermountain area that have that. We didn't know what it was going to be like; we did some research about it, and it was absolutely frightening to discover.
Doug: Whoa. Boy, this is beginning to sound a little like Job at this point. And too, I was reading--as I read a little more about you--about the stillbirth of a son. And, D. and I experienced the stillbirth of a daughter, and it's a heartbreaking thing.
Pamela: It really is. That happened four years ago, and after he was born I felt like I had hit rock bottom.
Pamela: That I just had no control over anything in my life as far as my children and their health. Now, it's been a wonderful life. We've had great times as a family, you know, it's been real happy, but there's just been this cloud that's kind of hung over me with my weight and, you know, using food to kind of get through all these stresses.
Doug: Mm-hmm. What does that do to your life?
Pamela: We used to live in Texas, and we had hurricane winds blow two hours inland where we lived. And I couldn't believe the amount of wind in that, and I would think about blowing a dandelion into that wind and trying to retrieve the seeds, and it seemed just like that. To try to get those seeds back was just like trying to lose a hundred pounds.
Doug: Yeah. What happened? What clicked?
Pamela: Well, I had had so many experiences, humiliating, and I'd made New Year's resolutions every year to lose weight, and it just didn't happen. And finally after this baby died--the stillbirth four years ago--I thought, "I'm just going to go out and take a walk," in an attempt to feel better. I'd felt like part of me had died. And so I took about a five-, ten-minute walk and turned around and came home and just said, "This is stupid. I don't like this. I just want my baby." And the next day I pushed myself out again, and little by little it just ended up to be ten-minute, fifteen-minute, twenty-minute, and it just continued on until it was almost an hour six days a week.
Doug: Yeah. Now, a friend of mine once, I told him I wanted to lose a certain amount of weight, and he equated it to this, he said, "Well, it's like you're carrying around three bowling balls," because I wanted to lose about forty plus pounds. And if you figure a bowling ball is about fifteen, sixteen pounds a piece--and I think a hundred pounds. How difficult was it? How hard was it for you to go out and walk? And what kind of affect did that have on your body? Was it difficult to accomplish?
Pamela: I hesitated often to even go out because I thought that people would be looking at me, making fun of me, and that kept me from going out. And I tried the treadmill, but my back ached, my feet ached. Everything hurt.
Pamela: And finally at that point I just thought, "You know what? It doesn't matter. I'm done with the excuses. I'm just going to go out there." And those walks just felt so good.
Pamela: And that's kind of what got me going. I could not, though, think about that hundred pounds. I thought, "I'll think about a week at a time. No, that's too long. I'll think about a day at a time. No, that was too long, too. Let me get through this morning. Let me get through these next fifteen minutes," as far as eating and making sure I got my exercise in.
Doug: What kind of support were you getting at home from Mark and from friends and from those who know and love you?
Pamela: They've been wonderful. Mark has always been, I'm very fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive husband and children. But it did take about a year to train them that Mom is moving herself up higher on the priority list, and Mom is going out for a walk. You know, this can wait, Mom's going to go take care of herself.
Doug: Yeah. You know, isn't it interesting, I think sometimes, too, particularly in the LDS culture we are so encouraged to serve, and we are so encouraged to kind of sacrifice, but yet sometimes we don't realize that we also have to serve ourselves occasionally so we can maintain, and that occasionally we have to sacrifice on our own behalf. And sometimes that's hard to prioritize, isn't it?
Pamela: It is. You can't say to a six-month-old, "Sorry, I'm not going to feed you. I've got to go out and do my aerobics."
Pamela: But certainly, you can carve out a little bit of time for yourself to just do those things that you feel are real necessary.
Doug: Other than just feeling a little better and looking forward to the walks, when did you start to really notice that maybe the weight thing was happening, too?
Pamela: Probably after I'd lost about forty to sixty pounds. Nobody had said anything until I lost about forty pounds. And that was kind of hard, but I felt so good that that kept me going.
Pamela: Finally after people said, "Hey, you look good. Did you get a new haircut?"
Pamela: Because I still had fifty or sixty to go, then once they started saying things, of course that helped, too.
Doug: You know, it's so hard for me. I'm sitting here during this conversation, and I'm looking at you and I'm just seeing the poster child for fitness and well-being and just health.
Pamela: Oh, you're nice.
Doug: And I can't even imagine what that period must have been like. But I have to tell you, for anybody who has ever lost weight, and you've lost what you think is a considerable amount of weight and nobody's noticed yet, that is discouraging.
Pamela: Yes. It can be. So I had to focus on the positive, on the way that I felt. I felt so much better, my clothes were fitting looser.
Pamela: And so I just had to go with that.
Doug: Let's take a break. We want to continue this journey with you, and then I also want to get to the point where the motivation came not only after losing the weight and so on and feeling better and feeling better about yourself but then the motivation to write a book. We'll talk about that when we come back. Pamela Hansen is our guest on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values.
Doug: I'm so enjoying this conversation. Everybody to one degree or another can relate to what Pamela has been dealing with and wanting to lose a little weight, some personal things in our lives that don't create an idealic stage for maybe focusing on ourselves for at least a few moments and doing what is necessary to maintain the health and well-being of our bodies and our minds. When did it occur to you--I'm just curious, and I want to pick up on the weight loss here because you have done this without pills, you did it without surgery, no tummy stapling or anything going on here. But, when did it occur to you to write a book?
Pamela: For years I journaled into a tape recorder because I didn't have time with five other children to do much.
Pamela: So I would record my thoughts and feelings, mostly as therapy, as I felt people were saying mean things or sending hurtful glances my way, and then I'd transcribe them into the computer. I kept doing that as I lost weight, and I realized that my whole outlook was changing, that I as a person, I don't feel any different than I did a hundred pounds ago, but my outlook has definitely changed.
Pamela: And I thought, "This would be a great story to leave to my children and grandchildren."
Pamela: Then as I was trying to make it into kind of a cohesive story, I thought, "This is the kind of story I would have loved to have read years ago." An ordinary person can do it without pills, without surgery, without a gym or a personal trainer.
Pamela: It can be done.
Doug: You know, my wife and I talk about that sometimes when we're moaning at where we are versus where we would like to be at any given time, and you'll go, "Well look how good Oprah did." But she has gazillions of dollars. She hires a cook to make sure that what she is eating is proper.
Doug: She has the personal trainer, she has a chauffer and all of that. And I think that's why your story is so inspirational. Somebody with kids, somebody with the same issues at home and maybe more so than the rest of us deal with, and the challenges, and you did it without the expensive memberships and without the personal trainer and everything else. At any point did you ever consider like, "Maybe I better call the doc and let's just do the tummy staple thing"?
Pamela: No. I wanted to do this and feel good that I had been able to do it myself. But I realize also that I did not do it myself. I did it with the help of angels, and that's where the title of the book came in.
Doug: I was going to ask about that. Where does that come from? Running with Angels. And there's a great--I love, I absolutely love the picture on the cover.
Pamela: They did a great job on that cover.
Doug: It has a lone woman running, and you see her reflection in the water but you also see reflections behind her with no image on the terra firma behind her.
Pamela: Mm-hmm. I felt all along that these two little babies that I had lost were with me every step of the way. They were cheering me on saying, "Go, Mom," not just in the weight loss but in dealing with their deaths, in dealing with just the everyday stresses. Just turning heavenward for help was so important to me.
Pamela: As well as turning for help from friends and loved ones. We all go through things, and I've realized that we all are suffering in some regard. And we need to help each other out. We need to be nice. And we may not understand everything we're going through, but how important it is to be angels and to search for angels to help us.
Doug: When did that kind of come to you, or I don't know the proper term, revealed to you or when did that sense come to you that you were being accompanied by angels?
Pamela: Probably when I was running the Park City Half Marathon. That is a grueling, it's the Rail Trail up there.
Pamela: The first half is going downhill, the second half is coming back uphill. And as I was running back uphill and everybody was passing me almost, I thought, "You know what? I need some help here." And I just almost felt as if I were being pulled along by these two babies saying, "Go, mom. You can do it. You can do this."
Doug: Boy, what a great story. Marathons. When did you first decide that you were going to give that a shot? And had you lost all the weight by that point?
Pamela: No. When I was in high school a friend of mine, her parents ran the marathon, and so I went down there to help volunteer. And I was at the finish line helping these runners come across, and some of them would throw up, some of them would just kind of collapse.
Doug: Yeah. Looks like a lot of fun to me.
Pamela: What I remember most is the looks of just triumphantness on their faces as they crossed that finish line.
Pamela: And I thought, "I want to do that someday."
Doug: Yeah. Somebody once joked, "Have you ever seen a happy runner?" You know, when they're running, because they usually look.... But the point where you do see the happiness, and as you mention, almost euphoria, is when they cross the finish line. It is an amazing site.
Pamela: Right. And for me, the training up until that point, the point where--well, I began being able to run about ten steps before I had to stop. I did it one time in the dark so nobody could see me, and you know because I've had this marathon dream for a long time.
Pamela: And after I'd lost about sixty or seventy pounds I thought, "You know, I think this can really happen. So let's see how far I can go." So I went out one night and ran about ten steps before I had to stop.
Pamela: And I thought, "Oh. There's no way I can do this." And I quickly thought, "Yep, there is. I want to do this really bad."
Doug: In one of the few moments when I actually was somewhat fit and was running and was pretty much at a weight where I wanted to be, I can remember--and until somebody's experienced, you know, they talk about runner's euphoria.
Doug: When the endorphins kick in.
Pamela: Runner's high.
Doug: And you don't feel the pain anymore. I mean, up until that point you are feeling the pain so you know the difference.
Pamela: Before and after.
Doug: And all of a sudden it's like you kick into overdrive. It is an amazing thing. When did you first feel that?
Pamela: There were a lot of runs when I felt that. Of course, training for a marathon you need to run pretty good mileage to train for that.
Pamela: And there were a lot of those runs that were just wonderful. There were some that were just awful.
Pamela: But there were many that were great.
Doug: Many people have been able to lose weight. I've been there. But keeping it off, oh, Pamela, you've got to, how do you--two and a half years now you've kept this weight off. You look terrific. How do you do it? I mean, really. Help me here.
Pamela: Well writing a book sure has helped. But just the motivational techniques I talk about in the book, looking at pictures, before and after pictures, has been a real help.
Doug: I've tried that. I put one on the fridge once thinking that as I opened the door I'd look at, and I just, ah, some days it worked, some days it didn't.
Pamela: Yeah. Well, just continuing with the exercise. Exercise is just an incredible blessing.
Doug: For you and for your family, what difference has it made?
Pamela: I thought, when I decided to move Pam up toward the top of the priority list, which is one of the most important things I did, I was sure my family would fall apart. Nobody was more surprised than I to find out that my family was much better off as a result.
Doug: If mom ain't happy nobody's happy.
Pamela: Well that's true. It's unfair but it's true.
Doug: It is true. So that's great. You know, the time goes by so quickly, and I have so enjoyed our conversation. What would you say to people who are listening right now who are dealing--if it's not a hundred pounds, maybe it's more, maybe it's less--what would you say to them? What's that kind of prime mover, that first step that worked for you that maybe they ought to try?
Pamela: Well, and there are people dealing with wanting to achieve a dream as well, and maybe it's not a weight dream.
Pamela: Maybe there's somebody in your life that you love who is struggling with weight. The thing that really did it for me was putting myself up higher on the priority list, but also loving myself more.
Pamela: You know, they say to lose weight you have to do it from the inside out.
Pamela: That's not always easy, but for me I just started feeling a little more compassion for myself.
Pamela: After the loss of this baby I thought, "You know what? I'm going to start taking better care of myself. I would do this if it were somebody I loved. I would encourage them to do what they could to take good care." And so that's what I started doing.
Doug: Is there another book coming up? Is there another marathon coming up? What's next for you?
Pamela: Right now I'm training for a marathon this fall. I've received a lot of email from people who just have incredible stories. I would love to write some more. It's been really fun.
Doug: It has been so much fun to get to know you better, and what an inspiration, seriously. And Running with Angels is the title of the book published by Shadow Mountain, one of the imprints from the Deseret Book Company, The Inspiring Journey of a Woman Who Turned Personal Tragedy into Triumph over Obesity. This has been a great pleasure.
Pamela: There's one more thing I want to add.
Doug: Please. Absolutely.
Pamela: We have a 5k coming up on April 30th down in Provo Canyon, which is where I've done a lot of training.
Pamela: Beautiful canyon. It's a benefit run that the proceeds will go to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center to the Women's Services, and with signing up--you can get more information on runningwithangels.com. And with sign-up you get a book and a really neat water bottle.
Doug: Oh great.
Pamela: And a wristband. And I brought you one.
Doug: Thank you.
Pamela: And I also brought you a registration form, and I'm not going to leave here without it. All filled out, Doug Wright.
Doug: I'm going to have to sign that, huh? This is very, hey, thank you so much. This is great. And that's coming up April 30th?
Pamela: April 30th, Saturday morning, 9:00.
Doug: And more information at runningwithangels.com?
Doug: Got it.