Monday, July 23, 2012

Health Hero Profile 7.23.12.....Holding Her Ground~Cami Ostman

What is your age and where are you from?
I turned 45 in May of this year, and I grew up in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. Now I live in Bellingham.

What was your beginning weight? While I was a teenager and in my early adult years, I was rapidly gaining weight and got up to 170. I’m 5’6”. Since there is a great deal of obesity in my family on both sides, I felt I was going to be fighting a losing battle with weight my whole life—but then I discovered exercise.

What is your current weight and how long have you maintained it?
I’ve actually maintained a weight of between 130 and 137 since I was 21 years old. Right now I’m 135. Strangely enough, I sometimes go up a couple of pounds after a marathon.

What made you want to lose weight and exercise; was there something specific that happened or was it a
combination of things?
In Community College, I was required to take a PE class to complete my credits. It was the first regular exercise I’d ever done in my life (twice a week). I took a low key aerobic dance class and watched my body start to change that term. This encouraged me, so I put myself on an eating schedule—not a diet, just a plan to eat only three times a day (which we now know is not exactly optimal for everyone). Little by little over the next couple of years, as I kept taking PE classes twice a week, forty pounds dropped off. By the time I graduated, I knew what I had to do the rest of my life.

What diets, supplements, and fitness programs have you tried in the past?
After college, I joined a gym and kept up a minimal exercise program for more than a decade (three times a week for twenty minutes in my aerobic zone). Then in my mid-thirties, I started running in earnest. Nowadays I mostly run—about five days a week anywhere between twenty and forty miles for the week depending on what I’m training for. I’ve never much depended on supplements or diets, but I do count calories at times to get myself back on track if I feel I’ve splurged a little too often lately. If my weight goes up to my high point, I cut back on treats until I’m down a few pounds. When I was younger, food was an emotional comfort to me during some very sad times, but over the years I’ve tried to replace it with friends, running, dogs, therapy, and writing.
How'd you lose your weight?
See above.

Did you share your plans with other people? How did your family, friends and co-workers influence and support you?
I never talked about losing weight with anyone back in my early twenties. I was too embarrassed to admit that I needed help all those years ago. Later, however, I got caught up in that strange body-hating self-criticism that women sometimes do with their friends. You know what I mean: “My belly is so flabby….” “Well you should see mine. It sags down to my hips.” I quickly realized there are two ways to talk about our bodies. One way is with love and appreciation and the other is with contempt and hate. No matter what your weight, the loving talk is more encouraging. I scrapped the negativity and refuse to engage in it anymore. I’m comfortable with talking about my sad feelings with supportive friends, but my current group of friends are also fabulous cheerleaders.

What were some of the challenges that you experienced on your weight loss journey?
Strangely enough, one of the difficult things for me as I lost weight and then as I’ve maintained it over the years has been the stronghold obesity has on my family. One day I went to meet my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousin at a restaurant for lunch. The little diner we were meeting at was a place my family members frequented, and the owner knew them all. As I walked up, my cousin introduced me to him and he said—out loud, “So how come you’re the only skinny one in the whole fat family?” I felt the most terrible sinking feeling as my cousin pasted a brave smile on her face and answered for me, “She runs marathons.”
The thing was, I knew that that jerk just asked the question everyone in the family probably wondered but never verbalized. Why had I beat the odds? But I knew that my DNA was exactly the same as everyone else in the family. If I stop moving, I gain weight. This means that I can’t take much time off. I can take a week off of running after a marathon, but I walk during that week. The challenge is that I have to have an unwavering commitment to my health and wellbeing and I wasn’t raised in that vein. Like a lot of people, I’ve had to create it from scratch.

In what ways has your life changed?
My life really changed when I made the commitment to run a marathon on every continent.  Years of aerobics and short runs had helped me develop some good habits and helped me keep the family legacy at bay, but I didn’t know how amazing, reliable, and strong my body (and mind) was until I trained for and began completing marathons. At that point, my whole understanding of what I could accomplish when I set my mind to it blossomed. When you do something big—something you never imagined possible—whether it’s running a marathon, losing weight, or completing a 5K walk, you change! You know something new about yourself, and you never lose that new self-understanding.

What are some moments-accomplishments that you are most proud of?
I’m really proud of a race I did recently in which I came in LAST! I signed up for the Chuckanut 50K (31 miles) because I wanted to challenge myself. I trained for it and thought I was ready when I stood at the starting line, but it turned out to be the hardest physical thing I’d ever done. It snowed and hailed and rained the whole 9 hours I was out on the trail. The course was only open for 8 hours, but I couldn’t finish in that space of time. I kept going anyhow. When I crossed the finish line nobody but my husband, one friend, and the race director were there. Still, I did it. I was slow and soggy, but I did it. I think if you stick something out when it’s hard, you get to pat yourself on the back.

What are your ultimate "must haves"///favorites: foods, fitness routines, music and training gear?
Gotta have disco music! I can run without it, but everything feels better with Donna Summer. A good sports bra is also a life saver, as is Body Glide for chafing. As for food, I’m always fighting to get more fruits and vegetables, but I’m big on nuts, grains, and legumes. And when I’ve done a long run and worked especially hard, I let myself have French fries for dinner. I realize they’re low in nutrition and high in grease, but a girl’s got to have one vice, doesn’t she? I’ve never been crazy about chocolate, it’s French fries I crave.

Eating a balanced diet and exercise go hand in hand for permanent weight loss. What do you do for fitness-to stay in shape?
See above.

What motivates you to stick with your healthy lifestyle?
My biggest motivation at this point is the community I’ve become a part of. I really think that if you know people at the gym, in the running community, in your Pilates or yoga class, you’ll keep going. If I don’t go to a particular local event, friends will ask me where I was. That makes me feel cared about and welcome. The thing is, it takes a long time to develop this kind of community, so I’ve had to stick around and show up often in order for people to notice when I’m not there. And now that they notice, I don’t want to let them down. This is hugely motivating!

Do you have any positive quotes you'd like to share?
My favorite quote is: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” by G. K. Chesterton. I love the idea that we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to live out loud with passion and do our best.

What words of advice can you give to someone who is struggling to lose weight and exercise?

My encouragement is to take the commitment to yourself as seriously as you take your own children’s welfare. You deserve to commit time, energy, money, therapy, and anything else it takes to your well-being. You have this one life as a gift to spend in some way that makes sense to you, and your health is the baseline for whatever else you do.

So that’s the philosophy. Here is the practical:
Find a program you think you can do.

  1. Tell everyone your goal and keep them updated (publicity is a great motivator).
  2. Collect a support system around you—people who will either cheer for you and/or participate in your activities with you.
  3. Celebrate EVERY small achievement. Don’t wait until you’ve met the final goal; every success is worth celebrating.
  4. Eschew perfectionism. When you mess up, forgive yourself quickly and get back on the horse. This is a LIFETIME commitment, not a short term goal. (Or as we sometimes say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!)

What are your best life lessons and the keys to your success?

My best life lesson has been to engage with life in the spirit of audacity. In other words, I try to walk about the earth as if I deserve to be here and actually have something important to contribute. For someone who grew up in a culture of shame apologizing for taking up too much space, this mindset has been revolutionary. Last Christmas, my husband had a silver necklace made for me with a pendant that says “audacity” on one side and “shine” on the other. I love it. And I wish that I could give the same gift (audacity to shine) to everyone.

And lastly, do you have any short term (3 months or less) and long term goals?

My short term goals are about keeping up my miles and adding some weight training to my routine. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to strengthen the muscles to support my bones. I’ve traditionally been pretty lazy about core strength and weight training. It’s time to address that.

My long term goal is to run a marathon in every US State before I turn 51. And to do each one at my own, slow, imperfect pace.

Rosie's Note:  Have you ever felt as though you met someone you've never met before?  I originally read Cami's book in January 2011 and recently read it again and I feel as though she could be my next door neighbor or running partner!  Second Wind is the book to read if you are looking for inspiration, motivation or heck simply an excellnt read!  Cami, what a treat to have you as a Health Hero Profile.  Thanks for sharing and I am looking forward to meeting you in September, RR.
Cami Ostman is the author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents (Seal Press). She is a licensed marriage and family therapist with publications in her field. Cami has been featured in several publications, including the Mudgee Guardian in Australia, The Bellingham Herald and Adventures Northwest in Washington State, La Prensa in Chile, and, most recently, in Fitness Magazine (November 2010) and  O, The Oprah Magazine (January 2011). She completed her seventh continental marathon by running in Antarctica in March 2010. Cami lives in Bellingham, Washington and you can find her blogs at,, or on facebook at


  1. Thanks Rose. It's been a delight to get to e-know you and I look forward to meeting you in person!! You're an inspiration to me.

  2. I met Cami through a family friend of mine! She's pretty awesome! I also have a goal of running a marathon in every state, and am slowly working my way through them! I hope to one day complete a race with her there! That would be so awesome! I also get those comments about my family, and being the skinniest in it. The males in my family have always had what's called the "Nobach Belly." I've never been described as heavy, and have always been skinny, but I do know that at some point, when my metabolism slows down, and as I get older that it will get harder. I am glad that I have someone like Cami that I can look to as a model of good health and a friend, that I can seek advice from if I were to ever need it!

  3. Cami, it's been super terrific getting to know you too and I will be on the look out for your next book!........Nobachingdown, you and Cami's goals of marathoning in every state is beyond awesome and think of all the memories/stories that will come out of it. Oh, don't forget about the bragging rights! Go ahead and do your thang ladies, RR