She Quit Smoking, Learned to Swim and Shed Pounds

She Quit Smoking, Learned to Swim and Shed Pounds


Alicia Richardson chokes up, recalling Mother's Day weekend 2012. At just 69, her mother suffered a fatal heart attack. "She was a country girl who grew up on a tobacco farm," Alicia says. "She smoked. And when she retired, she got little to no physical activity."

Their similarities stood out. A spunky Southerner who liked her cigarettes as much as her cornbread, Alicia wasn't active four years ago either. And at 48, she was taking three pills for high blood pressure. They weren't working. "The light bulb came on. I was like, that's my life. That's going to be me."

Getting Active

That summer, Alicia spent hours watch­ing the Olympics from her North Carolina home. Swimming events were her favorite, though as a child she'd been too scared to learn. But watching lap after lap got her thinking: "It's a basic concept. I'm a smart girl! I can do that!" Six feet tall, Alicia told herself she could always stand up if she had to. So she went to the shallow end of her local gym's pool and copied what she saw on TV. Eventually, she was swimming laps too.

Cutting Out Cigarettes

The September after her mother's death, she picked up a nicotine patch and a stop-smoking medication from her doctor. She had often tried to quit with no luck. But this time she kicked the habit for good. "The passing of my mother was the real motivator."

Next, Alicia ventured from the pool to the fitness room at her gym. She started using the ellip­tical, treadmill and weights. She even joined the gym's Biggest Loser contest-and won. "I was the oldest person in the contest. It was so hard. But I did it!"

Staying Motivated

Since 2012, she's lost, and kept off, 40 pounds. She's active almost every day: biking, weightlifting, boxing with her Xbox, swimming. Now with her health on track, she controls her blood pressure with just one pill. Her mother's memory keeps her moving. "I just cannot imagine the fear my mother must have felt. I'm still young enough to change. And for a 52-year-old woman, I think I do pretty good."

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November/December 2016