It all started with a bunch of bananas, but it ended with an inspirational story of weight loss and the importance of self-worth for Warwick resident Julie Lefebvre.
Lefebvre, who grew up in Johnston and has lived in Warwick for the past 15 years, volunteered at the 2011 Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run/Walk, an annual four-mile race that begins at the Pell Bridge in Jamestown at 6:30 a.m. and concludes at a nearby Citizens Bank in downtown Newport.
There, she represented Citizens Bank, where she works as an analyst, passing out bananas to participants as they crossed the finish line.
“I thought they would all be these super-fit young people, but they were all different sizes and ages,” she said. “When they were done, you would think they would have been fall-down exhausted, but they looked like they had just won the lottery. They looked happy, triumphant and it was a feeling I wanted to have.”
At the race, she saw a woman she had met about a week earlier at an educational seminar about gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that divides the stomach into two pouches and then rearranges the small intestine to connect both. Weight loss is often a result.
The woman, who was also serving as a volunteer at the race, had just undergone the surgery.
It was that day Lefebvre also decided she was going to have the operation. She dropped 25 pounds and by April, had the surgery and has since lost 75 more pounds.
“I want to lose another 50 pounds,” said Lefebvre, who is down to 189. “That’s probably going to take another year. At first, I was losing a pound a day and now it’s about a pound a week.”
While the two women were spectators last year, this year they won’t be handing out bananas.
“Now, we’re both running the race,” Lefebvre said. “I want to be a participant, rather than a volunteer. I want to know that I can do it just like everyone else. I’m not racing to win it, I’m racing to complete it – I just want to cross the finish line.”
To keep the weight off, she walks or runs every day and takes vitamins. She also joined Healthtrax, a gym located at 2191 Post Road in Warwick, where she takes fitness classes and works her muscles. Of course, she’s also preparing for this year’s race on Nov. 11.
According to Lefebvre, more than 2,000 people have signed up to participate so far. Sponsored by Newport Hospital and a host of other non-profit organizations, including Citizens Bank, the Rhode Island Turnpike & Bridge Authority hosts the event.
“The bridge is a gorgeous structure, and the opportunity to participate in a crossing like this is rare,” said David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. “Many have seen the views by car and now’s the chance for runners and walkers to see Narragansett Bay at sunrise from the crest of the bridge. If Mother Nature cooperates, the view should be spectacular. And importantly, all proceeds from the race will go to Rhode Island not-for-profit organizations to show our support for their invaluable contributions to the Rhode Island community.”
For Lefebvre, the event is not only an opportunity to exercise; it’s also a chance to connect with people. Through her journey of losing weight and getting healthy, she’s noticed a confidence boost within herself, which is something that allows her to better communicate with others.
In fact, she has since volunteered for other efforts, such as the “Gear for Grades” program through Citizens. The program donates backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need.
Also, she has been a member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Ocean State, an organization that provides mentoring to children throughout Rhode Island.
“I don’t have children, so it feels as if I’m passing on my strength and my values,” Lefebvre said. “I always looked for inspiration in other people and I just feel like now I can share them with others and touch another life. It makes life more fulfilling.”
For individuals who may be feeling down about their bodies, Lefebvre reminded them that there’s always hope. That hope, she said, lies within every heart.
“I turned 40 this year and I thought I was done changing,” she said. “I thought I was who I was, but it’s never too late to make that change and make a new life. You can give up old habits and develop new ones at any age. I didn’t want to be labeled as morbidly obese. Anytime someone gives you a label like that, it doesn’t mean that label has to stick forever. Now, no one would ever call me that.”
For more information about the event, visit pellbridgerun.com.