One step at a time

Published 8:02 am Saturday, July 4, 2009

BRANCHVILLE—Lindsay Barnes will never forget the overwhelming feelings that engulfed her on Thanksgiving Day 2007.

On a whim after dinner, the 26-year-old mother of four decided to step on a scale.

“The scale said 367, and I almost fainted,” she recalled. “I was almost two times what I weighed when I married my husband.”

Barnes, who grew up in Sebrell and met her husband, André, at Southampton High School, thought immediately about their four very active girls — Andrea, 6; Layla, 5; Lillyanna, 3; and Annabelle, 2.

Being morbidly obese made it hard for her to play with the girls. Even walking up a few steps made her gasp for air.

“I realized I was holding my kids back from living their lives,” she said. “Once you realize that, it’s game on.”

The next day was Black Friday, so André agreed to go through the kitchen and get rid of everything that was not healthy or conducive to losing weight while she went shopping for the day.

“I came home and our cabinets and refrigerator were bare,” she said. “All of a sudden, our lives changed.”

Barnes was used to gorging on food and soda, drinking a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper a day and eating 10 tacos in one sitting.

“My calorie intake was ridiculous,” she said. “I just ate and ate and drank and drank and ate and drank some more.”

Barnes’ weight gain didn’t happen overnight, but it did pile on over a few short years.

Back-to-back pregnancies, her grandmother’s breast cancer diagnosis, her parents’ divorce, the stress of her husband deploying to Iraq with his Army unit and the loneliness that came with it overwhelmed the young mother.

When he returned from war, there was even more depression to follow.

“We tried to pick up and resume a normal life, but war is a funny thing. He had changed. My husband likes to say that when you go over there that a certain part of your innocence is lost and you will never get that back.”

The two have bonded over her desire to get fit.

“He has been enormously supportive of me,” she said. “He always finds a unique way of letting me know that I’m enough.”

Overhauling her food was the first step. Then came physical fitness.

Trying to set an example for her daughter, Barnes signed up to run a 5-kilometer race in Emporia in April and then a mini-triathlon in Manassas in early June.

“I am going to do this for you,” she told Layla, who had been having problems in her physical education class. “If you get out there and try, you can do anything.”

The triathlon required her to swim 250 meters, bike four miles and run 1.4 miles.

“I went into it thinking I just need to finish, even if it means coming in last,” she said.

Barnes didn’t come in last. She finished 227th out of 260 runners.

She said the high from the event has become addictive.

“It’s a powerful, powerful thing,” she said.

Barnes has since signed up to do the three-day, 60-mile walk for breast cancer research to honor her grandmother.

“I want my races to mean something,” she said.

At 275 pounds now, Barnes still has a little ways to go before meeting her 190-pound goal.

“I don’t focus on what the scale says anymore,” she said. “I focus on being functionally fit.”