A Journey Begins With a Single Step

Melissa (Mel) Kamm knows what it’s like to feel like you’re trapped in your own body. Three years ago she found herself in a place where even her basic daily routines were a struggle. “On Saturdays I would do laundry and change my sheets,” she said. “I got to the point where that was so difficult for me that it was literally all I would do for the day. It took everything out of me.”

Mel had struggled with her weight and health for years. “One day my doctor told me that my A1c had gone from pre-diabetic levels to diabetic, and he gave me six months until I would have to start using insulin,” she said.

The threat of another medication and insulin-dependence was the motivation Mel needed to start making her health a priority. “The day he [the doctor] told me that, I switched my mindset from ‘if’ to ‘when,’ and I called Emily.” 

You Know When Someone is Really Ready

Emily Hayden is the Wellness Director at the Mattoon and Neal Center YMCA. “I had spoken to Mel several times over the years, but the day she called me, I could tell that something was different,” Emily said. 

As a Wellness Director, Hayden said she can feel the emotion when someone is ready to make healthy life changes. “Everyone has a trigger, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what it is, but when they do find it nothing can stop them,” she said.

After that doctor’s visit, Mel went back to Weight Watchers and started tracking her food intake, then she applied for the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. The program consists of 25 one-hour group sessions with a Diabetes Prevention Specialist of the course of a year, and includes a YMCA membership. “I knew I needed all the help I could get, so I found support and took advantage of the opportunities,” Mel said.

No More Excuses

Just a year prior to starting the program, Mel had a knee replacement. While fear of reinjury was a concern, she also knew that pain could no longer be her excuse for a lack of exercise. She started working towards 150 minutes of exercise each week, which is one goal of the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. “After being cleared for exercise by my doctor, I started getting in the water and taking aqua classes at the Y, then I slowly added walking videos into my routine,” Mel explained. “I started with a goal of walking one mile, and that has turned into several miles every day.”

Mel is motivated by challenges, so she participates in any challenge that comes her way. When COVID caused the Y to close, Mel said it felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath her and she knew she had to find creative ways to stay motivated. She completed a virtual marathon and then joined several national and local YMCA challenges like a 25-Minute Challenge, the Personal Space Race and the 15×30 Challenge. “It’s important to have goals,” Mel said. “Those goals and challenges helped me work up from 48 miles in a month to 75 in a month.”

The Future is Bright

Today, Mel is down 85 pounds, she has lowered her A1c from 7.1 to 5.7, reduced her blood pressure medications, and will soon be off blood sugar medications. While she’s proud of what she’s achieved so far, she has no plans of stopping. “My goal is to lose ten pounds a month, which would be 40 more pounds by the end of the year.” 

Eventually, Mel plans to lose 100 more pounds. When asked if she finds ways to reward herself for achieving her weight loss goals, the answer is simple. “My health- my life- is my reward,” she said.

As soon as the Y reopened, Mel was among the first to jump back into the pool. “I had no reservations about coming back because I knew I was keeping myself healthy and I knew that the Y staff was cleaning everything and taking every precaution they could,” she said. “Besides, I look at the pool as a nice, sterile environment anyway!”

When asked what she would tell someone who is facing the same battles that she faced three years ago, Mel has two words: just start. “Come to one class, take one step. Don’t think about it- just start,” she advises. “There are so many opportunities at the Y, there’s always something you can do no matter what level you’re at. Bring your cane, your walker, your crutches. Just start somewhere.”