Joanna: From overweight smoker to super athlete

12:57 PM, Jan 4, 2012   |    comments
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MARIETTA, Ga. -- When you meet Joanna Berentsen today, it's hard to picture her in anything but her black spandex, bright blue reflective shirt and running shoes.

But it wasn't always like that.

"I remember coming home from that first run. I was the last person in," she said. "No one likes to be last."

Before Joanna was an Ironman, a tri-athlete, and a coach, she was a smoker, a heavy drinker and an unhealthy eater.

"I went to a doctor once for a common cold, and she asked me if there was anything else wrong," she said. "I told her my knees were hurting. She gave me a full workup and said, 'Nothing is wrong with your knees except that you're just fat.'"

"It just hit me!" Joanna said. "I was so hurt, angry, upset. I said I had big bones. I just had every excuse in the book."

But then, she ran out of excuses.

"You've got to do something to take care of yourself. You've got to do something better," she said.

Joanna saw a flyer in her mailbox from Team in Training, a group with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They raise money for cancer research and patient services through endurance team activities like marathons and triathlons.

It's a story that sounds familiar this time of year: resolutions that usually melt away by February. But Joanna stuck with it.

She's now a coach and just finished a full Ironman triathlon. Along the way, she conquered some of her biggest fears.

"I almost drowned twice when I was little, so I've always been afraid of the water," she said. It's an understatement to someone who's fought through the sea of arms and legs of a triathlon swim that can only be described as mayhem.

"There's a picture of me coming out of the water, coming out of the swim," she said. "And there's this smile on my face that I had not ever previously seen, and I realized I was proud of myself."

An Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. Joanna keeps those old photos close because the distance between that woman and the woman she is today is harder to measure.

"I was going to say that I'm proud of it, but I don't think it's that big of a deal," she said. "I don't think I did anything that is so special and unique that no one else can do. What I did is very possible for anyone else to do."

Joanna's Top 5 Tips 

* Eat every 2 hours. She takes food with her everywhere, including meetings and road trips, and packs nuts, yogurt, granola bars so she'll be less likely to grab fast food or vending machine food.

* Set a goal, not a "resolution." Make them simple and obtainable.

* Take it one day at a time. If you make a mistake, start again tomorrow, and be nice to yourself.

* Keep it interesting. Do something you like or you're not going to stick with it.

* Get friends, a group, or a trainer to do it with you. They'll hold you accountable and make sure you stick with it.

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