Tough Love for Your Body Soldier works out a weight-loss solution

What started with brief walks has turned into love of fitness

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The Lee Kershaw of 10 years ago never believed the Lee Kershaw of today could exist.

The Lee Kershaw of 10 years ago weighed 240 pounds, turned to food for comfort and was adamantly opposed to physical exertion.

The Lee Kershaw of today is 100 pounds lighter, recently completed Army basic training and is studying nutrition and fitness at Clark College.

After years of dieting and yo-yo weight loss, Kershaw said she’s shed the pounds for good and has no fear of regaining the weight.

“It took me a long, long time, but I did it right this time,” she said.

Kershaw lost the first 30 pounds through a diet shake program. After six months, she realized she couldn’t sustain the diet so she turned to Weight Watchers. Kershaw dropped 50 more pounds — again only through diet.

“I had always hated exercise,” said Kershaw, adding that her disdain goes back to physical education classes in elementary school.

By 2003 — when Kershaw and her husband, Chris, moved from Massachusetts to Washougal — Kershaw was slimmer but still not happy.

“I wasn’t as disgusted with myself,” she said.

She reached out to a friend who works as a personal trainer for advice on how to drop the final 20 pounds. His answer: get moving.

Kershaw started walking on the treadmill, and, little by little, increased her walking speed. Then one day, she got the urge to try running. That first day, she ran for five minutes.

As the days passed, five minutes of running became 10, then 15, then 20. She started running outside and signed up for her first 5K. Later she ran a 10K and started taking classes at the gym.

“I learned to quit looking at the scale and just go by how I was feeling and how clothes were fitting,” she said.

Kershaw quit her job as a real estate agent and decided to go back to school to study nutrition and fitness. She enrolled at Clark College and attended the summer and fall 2010 quarters with the help of federal Pell Grants.

But the grants didn’t cover everything, and Kershaw, who has a 17-year-old son, worried about burdening her family with her college tuition. So she started thinking about joining the Army Reserves. She approached her husband, who works as an Army recruiter, and asked his opinion.

“I thought she was joking,” Chris Kershaw said.

But the next day, Kershaw took the military aptitude test and earned a nearly perfect score. On Valentine’s Day, Kershaw shipped out for basic training where the 40-year-old mother completed drills with recruits half her age.

“My biggest fear was I wouldn’t be able to finish,” she said. “But I did everything. I did every single thing they did.”

She returned home in June a more confident, disciplined and driven woman.

“I feel better now than I ever have,” Kershaw said.

Kershaw returned to classes at Clark on Monday and, through the Army, will receive more than $74,000 toward her education. She is considering a running a marathon and taking up fitness modeling.

She’s also volunteering her time once a week to mentor recruits in the Army’s Future Soldiers program. She pushes the recruits physically every Thursday with sit-up and push-up drills and running laps on the track.

She also lends an ear to the future soldiers. The young women in the program flock to Kershaw every week, seeking advice on various issues in their lives, Chris Kershaw said. They turn to Kershaw because they’ve watched her transformation and heard her story, he said.

“She’s gone from being inspired by people to inspiring people,” Chris Kershaw said.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.