‘After Losing Over 100 Pounds, I Used My Newfound Love For Exercise To Raise Money For Black Lives Matter’

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

From Women's Health

My name is Alisha Zellner, and I am 33. I am from Fort Collins, Colorado, and I am a corporal police officer at Colorado State University. By running, doing ab workout videos, and using Michi's Ladder, I lost over 100 pounds. Then, I decided to use my newfound love for exercise to help fight for Black Lives Matter.

I’ve been active my whole life. I played softball, basketball, and all kinds of other sports growing up. Picture this: I was even the first female to make the men’s varsity football team in high school. So I was always a pretty active child, but the thing was, I always emotionally ate my feelings, too.

I dealt with a lot of mental health issues throughout my teenage years, and when I finally got to college I started gaining weight. While I was still pretty active at school, I had to have two subsequent knee surgeries from some injuries I sustained while playing flag football. This left me unable to move the way I'd been used to all my life.

My eating around that time wasn't great for me either. I didn’t eat my vegetables. My mother would tell you that I hated everything green. I consumed all the processed foods and sweets I could. Everything that they tell you you’re "not supposed to have," I ate.

At my highest weight I was 294 pounds, which is when I decided I needed a change.

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

My turning point was when my mother gifted me an old box of workout DVDs.

I was trying to figure out a way to get active again. I created a New Year’s resolution at the end of 2007 to run the Colorado State University Homecoming 5K. That said, like most New Year's resolutions, I didn’t start going after my goal right away. I tell people the my life changed on March 10, 2008—that day I started using ab-focused workout videos to get fit.

I would be nothing if it weren’t for my mother giving me that box of DVDs and a workout calendar. I told myself that I wasn’t going to give up on myself and, for some reason, that I was going to follow this set of DVDs. I just went with it.

When it came to eating, I really connected with a food philosophy known as Michi’s Ladder.

It's similar to a food pyramid that you learn in school, with foods divided into three different categories. If you ate your carbs and fats and proteins within the first two rungs of the ladder, you're eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, per this philosophy.

I decided to completely cut out sweets and red meats from that point forward. Then, I used Michi’s ladder to guide the rest of my food choices. So I was like, 'Maybe chicken breast would be great for today, or a turkey burger would be a good substitute for red meat.' That was the start of me changing my eating habits.

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

I also got in strong shape and lost more weight with running and doing at-home video workouts.

Slowly but surely the weight came off. My mental health started improving. I began to see the world in a different way. By the end of the summer 2008, I even started running. I ran the CSU Homecoming 5K in about 33 minutes and 45 seconds. That birthed my love of running for years to come. I kept on running after the 5K, and I hit 100 pounds of weight loss on December 10th, 2008. By the end of the year, I had lost 110 pounds total.

When I hit that 100 pound weight goal mark, I felt a flood of emotions. I cried because I had done something I had said I wanted to do for so long and that I never thought I could do. I cried because the girl that had done it was exactly the same girl that I was six months prior, I just looked different. It was all worth knowing that that girl had the same mental strength, the same fortitude, had the same courage, that the girl looking back at me in the mirror did.

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

I continue to run now, too. I’ve done everything: 5K’s, 10K’s, two half marathons, and I did the original marathon in Greece. (That’s the one and only marathon I will ever do!) Part of doing all those things is my life motto, which is to live life E.P.I.C.—it stands for to live life with excitement, passion, intensity, and curiosity.

Then, I started to use my love for exercise to change the world.

My world changed again the day Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the things that Ferguson was asking for in their protests was more people of color in uniform. They were a predominantly Black city, with a predominantly white police force. Their police force didn’t look like them. I was like, you know what, that’s me. I can absolutely do it and be a part of the change. So, I became a Colorado State University police officer.

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

Then, at the end of May, when George Floyd was killed in police custody, I wanted to find a different way to give back to a movement that I’ve been a part of my whole life.

I’m a police officer, yes. But I wear my uniform about 40 hours per week. I’m Black 100 percent of the time. I love my bike, and it's what I'd been doing for exercise throughout COVID-19. I decided to host a bike riding initiative for my community called Bike Ride For Black Lives.

The Black community has been fighting for social justice for over 400 years, so I decided to set a goal for people to ride 400 miles during the month of July. When you break 400 miles down for 31 days in July, it’s roughly 12.9 miles per day. Through this initiative we've been raising money via our GoFundMe page, and all of the funds are evenly distributed to Black Lives Matter, NAACP, Equal Justice Initiative, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta.

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

On July 12th, we held a community awareness ride where over 200 people safely came together to bike with me for 12 miles through Fort Collins, Colorado. I was so excited about the turnout that I was absolutely speechless. A friend of mine said it best: "These are people that didn’t know you, but they wanted to ride with you. They believed in you without even knowing you." It just gave me absolute chills.

When the bike ride was over I was overwhelmed with emotions for days. Just sitting and looking at the pictures, and listening to the feedback, I realized people loved coming together to be a part of a movement that felt safe, that felt welcome.

I was extremely grateful to the group of awesome instructors at CycleBar Fort Collins, the studio I rented an indoor bike from during quarantine and take classes at regularly, who all joined me in riding 400 miles over the course of the month. They also helped me host a CycleGives event on July 31st, where people in the area could reserve a bike and take part in a socially distanced cycle class. All of the proceeds went to my Bike Ride For Black Lives initiative.

Photo credit: Alisha Zellner

I want to keep using fitness to ignite change for years to come.

I started this bike riding initiative because it’s a daily reminder that we’re still fighting, and that we're capable of anything we set our minds to, whether it be riding hundreds of miles, losing hundreds of pounds, or fighting against hundreds of years of injustice.

As we’ve seen from Trayvon Martin to Mike Brown to Philando Castile to Eric Garner to George Floyd to Breonna Taylor, changes haven’t happened as fast as we'd like them to, but they are happening. We’re watching states pass legislation, we’re actually watching real movement within our government.

I want to keep that momentum, because change is coming. It has to.

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