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Walking Success Story - Tammy Stevenson - Recovering Linebacker

Tammy Stevenson - Before Weight Loss from Walking aand Dieting
Tammy Stevenson - After Weight Loss from Walking and Dieting

Throughout Tammy Stevenson’s life she would never describe herself as thin. Standing 5’8” she battled keeping weight off since high school when she weighed 165 pounds. She was a self-proclaimed couch potato for most of her life. She combined a complete disinterest in exercise with horrid eating habits.

Combating her weight problem she gave almost every diet a try. In high school she started a low carb diet that lasted three days before her mom swore that she would kill her if she didn’t give it up. Apparently, Tammy got a little irritable from the diet. In college, she tried counting calories, but all she achieved was counting her weight as it pushed passed the 200 pound mark.

After college she joined the work force and even tried to work out a little in the form of a step exercise machine. She totally hated it. She tried a low-fat diet and initially it worked. She dropped 45-50 pounds and was back to her high school weight. Unfortunately, when she got married her husband vetoed the low-fat diet because the food was tasteless, and Tammy returned to the poor eating habits that led to her weight problems. Her husband was a med student and constantly stressed. This rubbed off on Tammy and when combined with a bit of depression she sought comfort in food.

Having added 20 pounds by the time Tammy’s husband finished med school, she tried a portion control diet. That led to her weight yo-yoing up and down by as much as 20 pounds. By the time she was 35 years old, she ballooned to 250 pounds and had pretty much given up until a fortuitous observation snapped the cycle. Tammy was pregnant with her son and watching a football game when she realized that the massive linebackers charging across the field weighed the same as she did. Her husband tried to be kind and justified her weight as being due to her pregnancy, but she wasn’t buying it.

After the birth of her son Tammy resolved to change her ways. Realizing she couldn’t do it alone, she joined Weight Watchers in February 2005 to gain better guidance. She learned to focus on increasing fruits and vegetables, switching to leaner meats and reducing her portion size. With Weight Watchers' leadership, she was able to cook food that was healthy for her and tasty to her husband. However, the biggest change was that she learned to incorporate exercise on a regular basis.

Her preferred method of exercise was, you guessed it, walking. She learned that you could work out aerobically without feeling breathless. She went from thinking of exercise as “the Great Satan” to thinking of it as “saving her life.” The book by Casey Meyer, “Walking: A Complete Guide to the Complete Exercise,” was a complete game changer.  The key for her was understanding her proper heart rate for optimum weight loss was around 130, not 160 as she tried to achieve the few times she tried to exercise in the past. Running was never an option for her, as “it hurt too much.”

By July 2005, she had lost 50 pounds, and was thrilled with her progress, but it didn’t end there. She continued to drop weight, with her absolute weight loss pausing briefly during her pregnancy with her daughter. Tammy reached her goal of dropping 95 pounds and while on a maintenance program lost another 5.

Reading that a “fast” walker was considered to sustain 11 minute miles for 5 miles she realized she had natural talent. Tammy was already walking a 12 minute mile and the realization sparked her competitive nature. She could achieve “fast” status, but she needed a little feedback and guidance. She decided to learn how to race walk and as many have found out didn’t find it particularly easy to do without any supervision. Seeing an advertisement that Dave McGovern’s traveling race walking clinic was coming her way, she wanted to sign up. There was one problem: the $175 registration fee. For her, on a strict budget, it was too much. Not to be dissuaded, she “begged” her friends and family to pitch in and make it a birthday gift. She signed up and claims that it really got her going in the right direction. She learned to correct her posture, reduced her over striding and got up on the toes. She previously had no mental image of what good technique looked like.

Post clinic, Tammy was supercharged to enter race walking events from 5K’s up to the half marathon. The side effect of her training was dropping another 5 pounds, bringing her total to 105 pounds lost since her peak linebacker weight.

Tammy’s success is well documented. An article appeared in WALK! Magazine, some of which was used as a basis for this article, and Tammy even appeared on TV’s the TODAY show. She was particularly flattered when instead of being thought of as the linebacker, she was asked if she was one of the fitness models for the show. 

Now 152 lbs, Tammy laughs that she needs to take a few pounds off before qualifying for nationals. When she mentions nationals, she is not referring to the age-group specific nationals, but the Senior nationals for open athletes of all ages. She wants to compete with the best in the U.S. and that requires qualifying by walking a 20K (12.43 miles) in 1:52. She is one of about 10 athletes coached by Jim Leppik of Australia. The wonders of modern technology, aka Skype, allow her to be coached from halfway across the world. Tammy describes Jim as very attentive and doting. He works her hard. Two fast workouts a week including intervals and fartleks, a long walk which can be as far as 20 miles, and strength training keep her busy as she tries to balance the life of a race walker with being a 42-year-old mom of 2 and working 30 hours per week in a research lab at the University of Utah.  

Here are just a few of Tammy’s accomplishments as an athlete.
Open national champion in 50K and American record holder at 50K W40-44 age group 5:16:20 in Houston, TX, Jan 2012
Open Race Walking Grand Prix bronze medalist in 2012
3 silver medals in W40-44 at World Masters Athletics in Sacramento, CA, Julya 2011
Open silver medalist at 15K national championships, May 2011 and May 2012
Open silver medalist and masters' champion at 40K, September 2012
Masters' age group race walker of the year in 2010 and 2012
Ten-time national champion in masters' age group competition from 5K-50K

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