COEUR D’ALENE — Five years after gastric bypass surgery helped them lose hundreds of pounds, two northern Idaho women are gearing up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene, a swim, bike and run endurance test covering a total of 140 miles this Sunday.
Chris Land weighs 162 pounds, down from 304 pounds before her January 2005 surgery.
Her neighbor in Hayden, Connie Price, weighs 129 pounds, after topping out at 259 pounds before she went under the knife in April 2006.
Their stories illustrate that weight-loss surgery, followed by a commitment to an active lifestyle, can change people’s lives in ways they never imagined before heading to the operating room.
“They said I didn’t have the nutritional ability to do an endurance race,” Price told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “I’m ready to prove people wrong and really inspire other people that are overweight. The possibilities are endless.”
Land, clad in tight-fitting nylon sportswear, bike shoes and sunglasses on a recent training ride, said she feels like she’s in the best shape of her life.
“I don’t care if I’m last in a race. I’m doing things I never dreamed I would do. I’ve been overweight since I was a little baby,” she said. “I’ve always been on the sideline. It blows my mind to think I can do anything like this. Whether I finish or not, I’m just happy to go through the training.”
The surgery radically alters a person’s digestive system by rearranging the path food takes through the stomach and small intestine. While gastric bypass surgery can help people rapidly lose weight, many suffer complications, including “dumping syndrome,” where the heart beats rapidly, they feel sick and break out into a cold sweat. Vitamin deficiencies and protein malnutrition are also common side effects.
Training for a triathlon that will likely take these women 15 hours or more requires special attention to these issues. As important as being in shape is eating right before and during the race.
“You can’t process food the same. You can’t have sugar,” Price said. “You can’t eat and drink at the same time, you have to pick one or the other.”
Both women must carefully monitor their food intake and eat foods high in protein like chicken and fish. Land, who has hypoglycemia, carries glucose gels with her. On training rides, she always carries a plastic baggy with peanut butter for the protein.
“I’ve had races where I have bonked and it would take me 40 minutes to get my blood sugar back up so I could continue the race,” she said.
For Price, it took her two years to get psyched up for the surgery. The mother of five kids struggled with an ever-burgeoning waist line for 13 years before finally letting the doctors intervene.
“It’s not a magic surgery that makes you skinny. There’s a lot you have to do with it. It’s just a tool to help you achieve it,” she said.
Combined with exercising, the pounds came off — 130 in six months — and have stayed off.
And it’s paid off. Price has run four marathons and done several triathlons.
“I was told I could never run a marathon or do anything of endurance,” she said. “I hated to run. Now I love to run. “I feel like nothing can stop me. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life that I’ll ever be in.”