If the story of Mary Catherine Domaleski goes like so many others, it would be full of pathos and self-pity. Then she’d tell of a magic pill or a miraculous diet that turns calories into fitness, a pudgy body into a slim, sleek machine – and all in two weeks. Well, maybe three. And chances are that somewhere on this page, there will be the obligatory “before” photo of a pleasant looking lady who appears…oh, a little overweight. She has a family that loves her, a biography and résumé that are more than satisfactory, and she volunteers at her church, New Hope Baptist. So what was the big problem “before”? Her story is one of motivation.
The problem was that despite her cheerful smile, Mary Catherine, 35 now, was one of those who have struggled with weight from childhood to motherhood.
“As a little girl, I thought I was fat,” she says. “It’s really a matter of perspective. I wasn’t fat, but I thought I was. As I got older I continued to gain weight, and gained even after I met my [future] husband.”
She was a size 16 before having her children, carrying more than 160 pounds on her 5’ 6” frame. The first of the three Domaleski children was born about a year into her parents’ marriage. M.C. never lost the weight she put on for daughter Alex, now 10, and watched it creep up into the 180s.
She was unhappy with her weight, knew she had to do something, but didn’t know where to start. Her husband Joe was also overweight. More competitive than his wife, however, he found it easy to begin a running program.
“I didn’t like phys-ed,” this Fayette Woman says today, although she did start walking. She had not joined a gym and was not doing weight training and, like so many would-be-slender ladies, she lost a little, gained a little, lost a little, gained a little – and became very frustrated.
“I bought the Kathy Smith book on strength training, but I gained again,” she says, “and I was doing cardio and weights, and feeling better making changes – but I had not changed my diet much yet. That was the next big hurdle.”
She joined a gym and finally started a good fitness and training routine. Trying to modify her diet herself, without the help of Weight Watchers, South Beach, or Atkins, she soon learned that she had to change her lifestyle completely.
Then came what M.C. calls “the year that rocked my world.” It was 1998, and mother was found dead in bed. She was 58.
Her parents had divorced some years earlier – M.C. remained close to both of them – and her mother worked hard despite a stress-filled life. She had let herself go and “it caught up with her,” M.C. says. Her mother was “extremely overweight and – ironically – had just started taking care of herself.”
It was too late.
When her mother died, Mary Catherine was 28 and five months pregnant with her second daughter, Tori, now nearly 7 and in first grade. She pictured the same scene repeating itself to her children if she didn’t do something to break the cycle. Now.
Let her tell it:
“I began teaching myself what was good [food] and what was bad, and making choices. There are books on nutrition and I talked to trainers and nutritionists. I continued to progress with physical activities, and in about five years began teaching strength and cycle classes in December 2000.”
“I got my weight down to135 and have maintained it ever since,” M.C. continues. “I was a couch potato, and didn’t do much more than maintain our home. I have changed my whole lifestyle.
“I didn’t enjoy exercise, so I chose the exercises I like. The real goal was better health and well-being rather than the loss of weight.”
Simply stated, she took charge of her life. Mary Catherine, the former overeater, can tell Mary Catherine, the girl with the boyish figure, to “put down that last cookie. It’s just food. I let food mean a little too much to me when I was younger, and I really want my kids to grow up feeling good and being confident in what they can do, taking care of their own bodies.”
So. That’s how Mary Catherine Domaleski shed somewhere in the vicinity of 80 pounds over a period of time – with increasingly rigorous exercise and equally rigorous study of nutrition. No pills. No glasses of apple vinegar. No hanging upside down in a door frame.
What works for one person may not work for the next. M.C. understands that, and says setting goals helped her push herself. “I just wanted to feel better about myself,” she says. “I wanted it for longevity. There’s no magic to it. It’s a progression. Most folks really want to lose weight now, but it’s taken years for me to get where I am today.”
And where would that be?
She means in terms of her own personal fitness as well as her credentials and teaching career. The weight is still off. Raising three kids (her last child, Stephen, was born in 2001 and is in preschool at St. Paul Lutheran School, where his sisters are also enrolled) would qualify as exercise for most women.
M.C. says that for her the hardest part of joining an exercise class was building confidence. Most women would agree. “Once I got confident about it, then I felt good. It’s very intimidating to be in with those well-sculpted bodies. You feel like you’ll never look like that.”
It took her five years, she says, and works best when she chooses exercises she likes. At first she had to “drag my feet to get out the door, but once I started, I learned that it feels good.” Her favorite exercise is the bike, indoors or out, and Pilates.
“Find what you enjoy and stick with it.”
She began teaching at New Hope, explaining the parameters for cardiovascular exercise, good nutrition, starting slow and steady. “There’s no quick fix,” she emphasizes to her classes. “We must do our own research, learn that food is energy for the body. That’s why we eat. We must fuel our bodies. Eating also gives us pleasure, but we should think about it in terms of fuel.”
She did her undergraduate work at Clayton College and State University, having gratduated from Fayette County High School with her brother Frank Mercer, now pastor of Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayette County. Armed with credentials from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), the American Heart Association, cycling, Pilates and other standardizing associations, she began to teach others.
At present M.C. is teaching one Pilates class and two groups in weight training designed to build strength and endurance at World Gym in Peachtree City. Early Wednesday mornings she teaches an hour-long “mothers’ morning out” Pilates class at her children’s school.
She also has her own business as a personal trainer, a separate entity called Southside Fitness, which she offers as an in-home service. Many of her clients need only have M.C. assess their goals, after which she designs a work-out program that can be done at home, and monitors their progress periodically.
When Joe Domaleski got tired of traveling to Norcross to work every day for 10 years, he started his own business as a computer and business consultant last spring. An IT guy, he sets up networking, designs and installs Web sites, and may advise you not to put in components you don’t really need. He is now able to work at home.
Joe’s a member of Peachtree City Rotary and the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce, and is also a competitive cyclist and a member of the Peachtree City Running Club. “He’s just an overall great guy,” says Mary Catherine. “He’s much more athletic than I am – loves the triathlon, and teaches a cycling class at 5 in the morning.”
They met in finance businesses in downtown Atlanta. They celebrated 11 years of marriage last September. Good athletes, the pair share their passion for fitness.
Bill Mercer is M.C.’s retired father, who lives at Lake Hartwell. She calls him an icon and a great role model. He’s 66 and very active: running, fishing, and gardening.
If you’ve thought about losing and gaining – losing weight and gaining strength, that is – here are some titles that might inspire you. Mary Catherine’s comments may give you the incentive you need.
“My start in fitness 10 years ago was with video tapes and a book, Kathy Smith’s Fitness Makeover.
“I also like The SuperFoods Book by Steven G. Pratt and Kathy Matthews. The book we are using in our weight loss class at New Hope is Lose it for Life by Stephen Arterburn and Linda Mintle.
“All of these are good books. Some look at specific topics and others are more general.
“Folks need to do a little research and find what works for them. Make small changes and progress slowly. Perhaps focus on eating better foods and cutting out some unneeded calories. An example would be to add a new veggie or fruit and cut back on sugary drinks like sodas and sweet tea.
“Losing weight comes down to burning more calories than you consume. Move more. Eat better. If it is overwhelming, get a partner. Someone who will keep you accountable. Set goals and keep a journal.”
Story by Sallie Satterthwaite