Body weight has been a concern in Tammy Brown’s life since she was three years old. It was then that her seemingly fit father died suddenly of a heart attack at the young age of 24 while playing in a basketball tournament. An athlete through high school, Brown’s father choose fatherhood and a job at General Electric in Kentucky over a chance to play baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A Farm League. While an autopsy was never performed, it was always assumed that Brown’s father’s death was the result of an unknown congenital heart defect. Devastated by the loss of her husband, Brown’s mother, Norma, turned to food for comfort. Gradually her mother’s once svelte shape began to change.
Surrounded by a loving family who only wanted her to try to find happiness after experiencing such loss, “no” was never something Brown heard when it came to the desire to overindulge. Compounded by her mother’s reliance on comfort foods in the home, slowly but surely Brown’s weight also increased.
Bullied by children in school for being heavier, Brown used to beg her mother not to make her go to school. At the height of all the snickering and name-calling, Brown recalled her mother saying, “Tammy, just tell them that it hurts your feelings. Ask them why they would do something so mean.” As a young school girl, Brown found the strength to confront two boys, twins, that were the worst of the bullies. She told the boys just what her mother had suggested. To her surprise, tears welled up in the eyes of one of the boys. That was the last time he ever bothered her. Ironically he continued to stick up for her in times when his brother still relentlessly teased. Fortunately Brown was a talented piano player. Fitting in throughout high school was of relative acceptance given her musical abilities. Personal acceptance of herself, however, was far from her grasp.
At 18, Brown stood at just over 5’1″. Her weight crept up to 160 pounds. Through the years, and after having four children, Brown’s weight yo-yo’d around that mark with the never ending goal to lose more weight. Attaining an optimal, thinner shape was “all about looking good and fitting in.” Health was never much of a concern. It wasn’t until much later that Brown started to understand that a healthy body was so much more than dieting and trying look good.
Brown’s mother, who was never able to truly get her arms around eating healthy and managing her weight, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. At the time of her diagnosis, she weight 300 pounds. Not much taller than Brown herself, the weight was taxing on her body. Nonetheless, she persevered through several rounds of chemo and was officially declared cancer-free in 2008. One month later, however, things weren’t right. Brown’s mother wasn’t feeling better – in fact, she was feeling worse. This struck everyone as odd as she should have been well on the mend. Sadly she learned an entirely different primary cancer was lurking in her body. The diagnosis was stage four esophageal cancer, and in February 2009, Brown’s mother succumbed to her illness. She was 62. Maybe it was coincidence or maybe it was fate, but the room where Brown’s mother spent her last days was in a senior living center in Florida that overlooked the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training ballpark, fair-weather home to the team that once scouted her late husband.
Throughout this time, Brown gained weight rapidly. At the time of her mother’s death, Brown’s weight peaked at 239 pounds and was spiraling out of control. It was then that she knew she needed to make a change. It took some time, but by February 2010, Brown walked into Weight Watchers and started a chain of events that completely changed the landscape of her life. In 14 months, Brown lost 80 pounds. Today, Brown continues to manage her weight at a much healthier 154 pounds. She attributes her success to eating healthy everyday, exercising and making good choices. She considers herself in a maintenance phase – but that’s just the beginning of the story.
A new chapter
70% of obese youth, age 5 – 17, had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Obesity has had a direct impact on Brown’s life, and quite possibly hindered any hope her mother may have had in controlling, if not preventing her illness. Rather than dwell on what was, or what could have been, Brown focused on what she could do now: help stop the cycle of childhood obesity by educating young people and their families to make healthier choices. Earlier this year Brown, 44, launched Kickin’ It, a training facility in Palm Bay, Florida, that offers comprehensive fitness and nutrition programs geared to families with overweight kids age 11 to 18.
Drawing from her own experiences, Brown realizes that heavier kids don’t always feel comfortable in a traditional health club setting. Kickin’ It offers an affordable and healthy environment for kids who might otherwise feel self-conscious working out. More than just exercise, Kickin’ It educates clients on the importance of dietary planning and family support.
Brown employs a group of skilled and vibrant trainers, all with military experience, who’ve had success in reaching out to Kickin’ It’s young demographic. In fact, Brown’s son, Daniel, 24, an ex-marine, is integral in helping Kickin’ It’s clients attain a healthier, long-term life style. When Brown isn’t busy operating her new business, she’s writing papers and studying, well on the way to completing her degree as a registered dietitian. Want to know what Brown is up to? Check out her new blog today.