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January 9, 2005

Marathon puts woman on path to happiness

From: Chicago Daily Southtown, IL - Jan 9, 2005

Sunday, January 9, 2005

By Allison Hantschel
Daily Southtown columnist

The hardest part of losing 100 pounds to run a marathon?

Finding running shoes that fit.

Kathy Allen, 42, once weighed more than 300 pounds. The Lansing woman gained weight and lost it, tried diets and failed at them. Her blood pressure was high; so was her cholesterol.

She was shy and depressed and the thought of walking around the block exhausted her.

"I was on such a path to destruction," Allen said. "And I had dreams about doing a marathon, a triathlon, but my weight and my low self-esteem always held me back."

Deaf since birth, Allen already knew something about overcoming obstacles. As a child she learned to read lips, learned sign language.

Five years ago, cochlear implants helped her hear for the first time. Unsentimentally, she recalled that the first human voice she ever heard was not that of family or friends but "the audiologist who was adjusting the implants.

"The first day I got the implants I heard water running, doing the dishes," Allen said. "I didn't know that running water made a sound. I was noticing the turn signal on the car. A lot of things amazed me."

After recovering much of her hearing she still asks that people talking to her do so slowly and clearly Allen got a job in customer service at the foundation that paid for her implants. But she still wasn't entirely happy.

"Being that heavy gave me incredibly low self-esteem," she said. "I have done every diet in the world and every time I lose weight, even if it was 80 or 100 pounds, I gained it back."

She started training for a marathon the day of her gastric bypass surgery.

"The nurses got me up out of bed and made me walk, for 15 minutes every hour, and I haven't stopped," Allen said.

Not that there haven't been times that she wanted to quit. Over the past year, she's had to change her diet, carefully monitor how much protein and fat she eats. She was always hyper-aware of her weight, but now 100 pounds lighter she feels good about it.

Except when she's shopping for the latest pair of running shoes.

"The weight loss changed my health for the better, but it also changed my feet," she said. "Before the surgery I wore a size 11 wide in women's and losing that much weight changed the shape of my feet. I had blister after blister, ankle pain, knee pain, trying to find new shoes that are the right fit for me."

Once she had the shoes, she needed to find the right finish line.

Looking for a marthon to run, she found one at Disney World. And the capable-adult Allen, at the mention of Goofy, dissolves into giggles.

"You run through all the parks, and the characters come out and cheer you on," she said happily. "And the medals you get have Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse on them. But Goofy's my favorite. I love Goofy."

The Disney Marathon, which takes place Sunday, takes runners through all four Walt Disney World theme parks, beginning and ending at Epcot. On Friday, Allen was touring the route with her parents, getting ready to run.

She wants anyone thinking about changing his or her life to keep her story in mind.

A year ago she was overweight and miserable. Five years ago she was locked in a world of silence.

Friday she was laughing and talking on the phone.

"I'm not depressed anymore," Allen said. "I'm part of the world now. I'm out there doing my job and being part of conversations, and I'm running this marathon."

Allison Hantschel may be reached at or (708) 633-5998.

© 2005 Chicago Daily Southtown