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Couple Celebrates Transformation at RFAP 2017

May 8, 2017 4:37 p.m.

At 8-years-old, Andy Oberhill was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a potentially deadly blood cancer. He spent the better part of the next two years traveling from Mattoon to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for extensive chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and testing.

Andy beat cancer, and as the years when on, he met his wife, Brandi, and started working at Sarah Bush Lincoln. As often happens, the comfort that comes with marriage and the irregularity that comes with a third-shift job contributed to weight gain for both Andy and Brandi.

At one point, Andy lost close to 60 pounds, but gained it back when his gym closed. Two years ago, Andy found himself back at 305 pounds when a co-worker challenged him to join SBL’s Center for Healthy Living (CFHL). The CFHL is a medically monitored exercise facility in which participants receive a custom-designed exercise and lifestyle program to manage chronic illnesses or regain mobility.

“I sat on my hands for a while,” Andy said, “but he finally talked me into it.”

Andy knew that it would take more than exercise to meet his goal of losing 135 pounds, so he enlisted the help of his wife.

“I’ve always struggled with my weight,” Brandi said. In high school, my friends and I would hang out in a gym and I lost weight as a by-product of that.”

She added that she had tried to lose weight before on my own, but when Andy was on board, she thought they could be successful together.

Echoing Brandi, Andy said, “I thought it would help us to motivate each other. I get discouraged sometimes and it helps me to see someone else working hard. It makes me push myself.” And it’s working. With Andy’s 60-pound loss, Brandi is on his heals with a 55-pound loss so far. While they have both made remarkable progress, they are continuing to make better choices to lose more weight.

Andy and Brandi started doing high intensity cardio and weight lifting with trainers at the CFHL and taking some of the free classes offered daily. Andy lost 25 pounds during the Sarah Bush Lincoln New Year, New You challenge. On different teams, it brought a little friendly competition into their household and helped them move past a plateau. This year, they joined the Couch to 5K program together. Couch to 5K helps participants gradually work their way up to the point that they can run a 5K (3.1 miles) race.

“I’m running for 30 minutes now,” Andy said, “I never even did that in high school, and I’m faster now than when I was in high school.”

Andy said the difference between the CFHL and other gyms he has used is the structure. “They [the Center] are tremendous about offering a variety of services. They set up circuits, they keep on me and push me.”

Brandi credits their weight loss to eating less and exercising more. They hit the gym five days a week, and her go-to work out is the elliptical machine. A school teacher, Brandi loves to read, but finds little time for it. She takes advantage of her time in the gym to listen to audio books, already knocking out 16 books in the last year.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be a struggle for many people, but those who do shift work may find themselves facing additional challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet and finding time to exercise. Andy, who is also working on a business management degree at Lake Land College, said it took some “trial and error” for him to determine when exercise would best fit into his schedule.

“The flexible hours [at the Center] really help,” Andy said, “I usually come in the morning after I get off work and my wife meets me here, but I can also make it up here in the evening before work starts.”

When Andy struggles with staying motivated, he reminds himself that the doctors at St. Jude, where he still participates in research testing, have told him that maintaining a healthy weight is key to continued health.

Andy’s biggest struggle is maintaining a healthy diet, “I like food, so I wasn’t used to eating less in the beginning,” Andy said, “I was hungry at first, but it subsided and I learned that the discipline that I use to exercise goes hand-in-hand with building healthy eating habits.”

Andy and Brandi pick and choose the foods that are healthier and keep unhealthy items, like sweets, out of their house, and they don’t drink calories either. Meeting with a nutritionist at Sarah Bush Lincoln gives them healthy standards to follow and keeps them accountable. Collecting recipes, planning their meals, eating at home more, and packing healthy meals and snacks for work have helped them stay on track with their diet.

“She’s been giving me a run for my money,” Andy said of his wife, “She’s been doing a tremendous job and I’m so proud of her for doing it.”

Brandi added that she doesn’t consider this path a ‘diet,’ but rather an avenue to a healthier lifestyle. “I want to be healthier for the kids that we would have some day,” she said.

Andy has some advice for those who are working toward weight loss goals, “Don’t worry about what other people think,” he advises, “We’ve all been in a difficult place in one way or another, so set a goal and work hard to achieve it.”

A past volunteer at Sarah Bush Lincoln’s Races for All Paces, Brandi said in the past they thought they’d like to participate in the run and commented, “maybe next year.” ‘Next year’ is coming up on Saturday. Look for Andy and Brandi as they run their first 5k at Races for All Paces on the EIU campus on Saturday, May 13.

Races for All Paces is a multi-race event featuring a half marathon, 10K, 5K, 1 mile fun run/walk, Toddler Trot and Diaper Dash. For more information or to register, go to www.sarahbush.org.

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