How Truck Driver-Turned Model Kendra Calfeé Recast Her Life After a Diabetes Diagnosis
As a 22-year-old truck driver, Kendra Calfeé spent her days hauling big rigs thousands of miles across the country. But in April 2012, at the age of 25, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis shook up her life. Her employer wouldn't let her drive again until her A1C was below 10%, rendering her jobless. That gave her plenty of time to think about her new reality.
She made some initial changes, joining Weight Watchers (now WW), trading soda for water, and doing some light treadmill walking at a local gym twice a week. That, combined with a corrected metformin dose, brought her A1C down. One year after her diabetes diagnosis, she resumed driving. "I thought everything was under control," she says.
Learning How to Manage the Ups and Downs of Her Diabetes
In 2014, Calfeé learned she was pregnant. Her blood sugar, which she'd kept in the mid-100s with diet and medication, rose to the 300s and refused to budge. Her son, Gabriel, arrived healthy, but Calfeé continued to experience diabetes complications after her pregnancy. Then, a romantic breakup rocked her home life. Calfeé began experiencing anxiety attacks.
The new mom embarked on a mission of self-care, booking weekly massages, learning to meditate via YouTube videos, and seeking spiritual counseling through her church. She walked the track at her local rec center daily until shin splints forced her to switch to water aerobics. She rejoined WW. Handling boxes as a delivery truck driver filled her days with physical activity. After six months, she had found her groove.
But in July 2017, on her delivery route, another driver cut her off, forcing Calfeé to swerve and slam her truck into a concrete wall. Her right knee collided with the dashboard; she also suffered a concussion and sprained her back and neck.
Overnight, she went from active and thriving to nearly incapacitated. Workouts were replaced by physical therapy; food provided comfort. Depression crept in and she wasn't in the headspace to prioritize her health. "I felt defeated," she says.
Then, in September 2018, Calfeé's aunt passed away from a complication of type 2 diabetes at age 62. This was the wake-up call Calfeé needed. "I had a son to live for. I thought, 'No way am I going to die on purpose. I need to kick things into high gear.'"
Figuring Out What a Healthy Lifestyle Meant to Her
At first, high gear meant weight-loss surgery. "I felt like I'd tried everything, and diet and exercise weren't enough," she says. At a bariatric surgeon's request, Calfeé committed to lose some weight first, to show she had the discipline needed to stay healthy post-surgery.
So she met with her internist for weekly weigh-ins, with a goal of losing 4 pounds per month. Every week, they focused on a different nutritional tweak: swapping zucchini noodles for pasta; replacing soda with fruit-infused water; snacking on veggie straws instead of potato chips when she craved crunch.
Calfeé also began walking two to three days a week around her Roanoke, Virginia, neighborhood. "At first, a mile took 45 minutes," she says. She slashed that to 30 minutes over the course of six weeks, as she started sprinkling in some jogging. Next, she says, "I challenged myself to exercise four or five days a week."
Calfeé documented her progress on Instagram under the handle @iluvtheweighiam because, she says, "I didn't care as much about pounds dropping as learning how to love myself."
Her motivation: "A friend had posted, 'Sometimes the weight you need to lose isn't just with your body.' That resonated with me. I needed a job that wasn't so stressful that it triggered me to eat emotionally. I wanted to surround myself with people who had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish—health, joy, and self-acceptance—or were on my same path."
In March 2019, she joined Planet Fitness. During orientation, a trainer introduced her to strength training, starting with squats to strengthen the muscles surrounding her knees, still weak from the crash.
"The first three months were hard—I had done cardio, but this was a whole other game. You needed to know how to position your body so you wouldn't injure yourself. But soon the weight was dropping, which meant less pressure on my knee, which meant less pain." She worked up to four strength training sessions a week, adding chest flys, sumo squats, and 65-pound hip thrusts.
After six months, she was making such tremendous progress that, with her internist's support, she stopped pursuing bariatric surgery and focused on cultivating a healthy lifestyle.
Pursuing Her Goals
When Calfeé, now 34, ditched surgery plans, she made a commitment to doing more things outside her comfort zone. First on her list? Modeling, something she'd been interested in since she was 16. "But back then," she says, "curvy bodies like mine were not accepted." When she learned of auditions being held for Central Virginia Fashion Week, she went for it—and made the cut.
She's now a brand ambassador for a local boutique and will walk in her first bridal fashion show later this year. Her next venture: opening her own healthy food truck. She's enrolled in the Feeding America Culinary Arts Training program, a 12-week course covering kitchen skills and menu planning.
Gabriel, now 5, is reaping the rewards of his mom's new passion too, whether it's running on the beach without her getting winded, cartwheeling together, or munching on Mom's homemade air-fried chicken nuggets (check out our recipe for Air-Fryer Chicken Nuggets).
Best of all, Calfeé's gained a new lease on life. "I've fallen in love with living! Every delay is just a pit stop on the way to another opportunity to inspire someone else or enhance myself."
This story originally appeared in Diabetic Living Summer 2020.