The Lighthouse Fitness Project is an opportunity to share and grow the vision, mission and focus of the Platte River Fitness Series through the stories and photographs of 10 individuals who have generously agreed to let us share their journey to wellness and the “Lighthouses” who helped guide them. Click here for more posts from the Lighthouse project.

"A house is not built upon the ground, but on the shoulders of a woman." This Mexican proverb aptly describes the foundation of so many families. Mothers play a powerful role in the establishment and maintenance of a family's habits and lifestyle. They weave the fabric of family life.

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It is no coincidence that the age group that dominates every Platte River Fitness Series event is the women's 30-39. This age group, filled with busy moms, career women, single women and women busy contributing to their communities, is larger than all of the men's age groups combined in the Points competition for the Platte River Fitness Series. Our 30s are a time of transition. We are moving through a process of changing bodies and changing outlooks, and for most women, it is a time when they see clearly that their children will "learn what they live." It is a time of deep introspection. It is also a time when we are so busy taking care of everyone else, we often forget that to be strong enough to do that, we have to take care of ourselves.

This is certainly true for Joni Cheever. Joni started to think about lifestyle, weight loss and exercise in relationship to the optics of how making changes might improve the way she looked. She discovered, however, that health was the more worthy and lasting goal. This is Joni's story, in her own words.

"I have to admit,” Joni says, “that when I first started my weight loss journey three years ago, it was more for looks and not health. That changed last year after I started running. I have numerous family members with weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thyroid problems and heart problems! I saw all the pain they were in, and I realized I didn't want any of that to happen to me! I want to be HERE and HEALTHY for my husband and our girls!

“My issues with weight started a long time ago. I LOVE food and sweets are a huge weakness for me. I've always used food as a comfort. If I was sad or depressed, I would eat. If I was bored, I would eat. I never knew when to stop. I didn't play sports in school and really didn't like to exercise. It didn't affect me too much until my daughters were born. I have four beautiful girls! With each one of them, I weighed more and gained more with each subsequent pregnancy.

“Of course, with my last baby, I was at my heaviest both at the beginning of the pregnancy and at the end. At about 6 months, I started having problems with my hips. They would 'lock up' or just not hold my weight. It became very hard to walk. At that point, I knew I needed to do something after my little one was born. It was, however, very hard. I was a very busy mom and felt like I didn't have time for exercise, so it was just easier to simply not try. I was getting more depressed about my weight. My body physically hurt all of the time. I was always tired. I tried several 'lose weight fast' gimmicks with no positive results long-term.

“My daughter was born in February 2011 and the next January, I decided to set a goal to lose 30 pounds. I had had enough! I had no energy and couldn't play with my girls for very long. I didn't want to feel this badly anymore. I started by walking four days a week, used an elliptical trainer, worked out with resistance bands, and reduced the size of my portions. Very slowly, the weight started to come off. I lost about 30 pounds. I was happy about that accomplishment, but I was still tired all the time. For awhile, I did well at maintaining my new weight, but soon got into another slump. The next January came with a new goal. I was going to run a 5K without stopping. I downloaded a running app and got started. I hated it … at first. I had always disliked running, BUT I made the decision to persevere because I truly wanted to lose the weight.

“I was able to run all 3.1 miles of a 5K by March. I wasn't fast but I did it. I still didn't really like training but loved the competition! The more I ran, amazingly, the more I liked it! Before I realized it, I started to fall in love with it! I lost a bit more weight after I started running, but not the amount I wanted to lose. I wasn't shrinking dramatically in size, but I was feeling better and I had more energy. I ran in as many races as I could and kept maintaining my weight loss.

“January seemed like a month ripe with transitions in my life. January of 2014 was the start of a great adventure for me that is still playing itself out! I set a new goal … well, a few of them I guess. Lose the last 20 pounds, run a 5K in 25 minutes, run my first 10K, compete in a triathlon, run my first half-marathon and be a top finisher in the Platte River Fitness Series. To lose the rest of my extra pounds, I realized I had to make bigger lifestyle changes, changes that would also be better for my family. I did a complete overhaul of my diet and started 'eating clean.' We eat little or no processed food and eat more fruits and vegetables. I bumped my running to four to five days per week and worked more on my pace.

“Several months later, I was able to check two goals off my list! I lost the rest of the weight and ran a 5K in 25 minutes! Changing my diet gave me a new energy I hadn't had before. I actually FELT healthy!! It is an awesome feeling. A few months further down my healthier new road, I ran my first 10K and competed in a triathlon, which I truly loved! I am still working on the remainder of my goals but taking charge of my health and my life has empowered me with the belief that I can reach any goal I make for myself. This is a powerful lesson to teach my children.

“I am strong and getting stronger with each run. The support of my husband and family helps keep me moving forward to each new goal. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them! It has been a challenging journey with injuries, pain, self-doubt and set backs, but what matters is that I live the maxim, 'never, never, never give up.' I realize that this is a lifetime commitment, and the most important commitment I make is to be an example for my girls."

Joni's story is a story about making positive lifestyle changes that have improved her health. She has used the tools that the Platte River Fitness Series tries to provide to help that transformation take shape; plentiful goals, the motivation of competition, spending time in community with like-minded people. Joni's is also a story of self-awareness and the power of a mother's love.

If we are to truly love our children, we have to teach them that love encompasses all that surrounds us, including ourselves. We love them when we show them that nurturing a healthy body, mind and spirit empowers them to go beyond themselves to wholly give of themselves to family and community. Many of our athletes will see themselves in Joni's story, and the women of the 30-39 age group are a sisterhood of lighthouses for each other.

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