- Posted October 30, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
CNN Fit Nation: 2014 Triathlon Challenge
Samoan Woman Loses 100lbs, Becomes a Triathlete
Two years ago I was siting on a beach at my heaviest weight of more than 400lbs asking myself, how did I get to be this big? More than that, I asked myself another question, if I were to die that day, would there be a coffin large enough to hold my body?
I knew the answer to the first question. I knew it all so well, yet never really wanted to face the fact that I was addicted to food but was too proud to admit it.
It was the answer to the second question that terrified me. Not only because I was a single parent to two sons, but because I'm a diabetic whose numbers had become so uncontrollable that the possibility of a sudden death from a heart attack or from a stroke or any of the other causes of uncontrolled diabetes was surely in the cards for me that day.
At 6'1", I have always been big but I never really felt uncomfortable in a social setting, as big is beautiful in our Samoan culture. The language of food is centered around generosity and respect which encouraged a big healthy body. However, the past several years of journeying towards a healthier and lighter body have taught me that our cultural aesthetics of beauty and respect are at a cross roads and need to be redefined if we are to live long,strong and healthy lives, particularly in light of the fact that Samoans and Pacific Islanders lead the world with the highest statistics of those suffering from obesity and diabetes.
Exactly 16 months ago, I decided to put an end to my suffering and to redefine myself and my cultural concepts of strength and beauty. I had always started things out strong but a week or two later and I would be back to my old ways. This time, I told myself, it would be different. And stuck to it.
Our family of nine had just then moved from American Samoa to West Valley, UT and our first act was to be enrolled at the local rec center as a family. Fitness became fun and something we did together as a family and not something I did in isolation.
After swimming and walking for 6 months, I was down 80lbs. Changing our diet to include more vegetables with lean meats also contributed to the weightloss and more stable blood glucose readings.
It was 3 days before Christmas last year that my dentist informed me that I had advanced periondontal disease which meant he had to remove all my teeth. I didn't blink an eye when he told me the news. I just looked at him and nodded, let's do this. I had been in so much pain from my teeth and gums that I did not think twice when I saw those x-rays. I was also further affirmed by the fact that I was about to become a denture wearer at the ripe young age of 45 but according to Dr. Johnson, because the dentures were so close to my original teeth in appearance, no one would ever know they were not my real teeth.
So I was cool with that.
However, it was the night before my surgery that I asked my friends at polyonemedia.com, a small Polynesian media group that filmed local news with an island flavor, to have the procedure filmed. The film-maker kept asking me, are you sure? You're only in your 40s. I mean, people are going to be talking about you. You know how it is. Aren't you going to be ashamed of that?
It was after some reflection on my own family history as well as the history of those close to me and the history of Pacific Islanders in general that made me change my entire view on the secrecy surrounding my soon to be days as a denture wearer.
For one, both my parents had passed away from complications brought on by diabetes. Secondly, I have lost far too many friends (including my best friend who died at the young age of 43 after caring for his own mom who was also a diabetic and his dad who had been on dialysis). And thirdly, diabetes continues to be the number one cause of death among Samoans and Pacific Islands people. So sure, no one else would know that I would be wearing dentures. But I would know.
And to me, after considering all the facts, I realized that loosing my teeth is a reality of diabetes that needed to be shared. It was that day that I realized, diabetes is not about me, Sia Figiel, single parent to 2 sons, wearer of fabulous dentures and no one would suspect. But rather, it is about my family, my friends, my loved ones and anyone out there suffering from the complications of diabetes in silence, not knowing what to do.
I wanted to film my surgery so that anyone living with diabetes would never have to go through what I had experienced. The 10min short film is called Sia at the Dentist and could be accessed on youtube. It was that day also that I became an activist for diabetes and obesity.
A month later, I walked-ran the Great Aloha Run. A dream I had always had and I was pleasantly surprised to have done it in 2.23hrs.
It was immediately after the Great Aloha Run that I astounded myself into googling such sites as the Ironman, massive weightloss and triathletes. It was then that I came across a picture of a woman named Annette Miller who had lost a hundred pounds and was preparing for the Malibu Triathlon sponsored by CNN.
I was so moved by Annette's story as it was almost a mirror of my own. To be told you can't play or you can't do something because you're too fat? Umm...sounds all too familiar. Been there! SO done with that. But just fyi, the things other people take for granted were painful daily reminders to me that I had let things go. Just a little too far. To the point where I became dependent on my then 8 year old son to put on my socks, tie my shoes, inject my insulin, and save my life over and over. To put that responsibility on a child is not only unfair, but is wrong.
So my transformation has been motivated not only by my family, loved ones and anyone out there living with the struggles of obesity and diabetes. But it's really a wake up call. To get off the couch. To move. To walk the talk. To live and to live out loud.
At this point, I feel I need a team effort to push me towards dropping my last 100lbs which according to my doctor, would be my optimum BMI and will put me at a goal of 204lbs.
I have already lost my first 100lbs mostly on my own, with the help of my sister, who always made sure I had enough green vegetables for my smooties, my walking partner Selesitila Matagi, my gym partner Deborah O'Dell. And everyone on my FB page Sia Figiel has diabetes. Diabetes doesn't have Her.
This time, I am looking forward to working together as a team to take me to goal. I would be over the moon mega grateful not mention challenged if I were to be chosen to be on the 2014 CNN Triathlon Team. What a dream! To run, bike, swim as one of the 6 pack!
Besides, my sons are skeptical. They laugh when I say Triathlon.
Sure mom. You can do it.
But their smiles tell me otherwise.
I'm telling them: I'm going to cross that finish line in Malibu boys. And you can tune in on CNN to see that happen.
Just watch me!
Thank you for listening to my story.