Kelly Zelinsky hated being 33.
More than just another sign of time passing by, it was a sad reminder of her brother, Jon. The young man with Type 2 diabetes had died of a massive heart attack -- at the very same age -- just a few years before.
Turning 33 also reminded Zelinsky about the dangers of her own lifestyle -- a cycle of yo-yo dieting, inactivity and an addiction to junk food that led her to obesity.
"(My brother) didn't make good choices. He had McDonald's all the time and he drank those Slurpees. That's exactly what I was doing," says the mother of three during a phone interview from her Transcona home.
"I didn't want to go down that road anymore."
So in February 2013 -- just three months after she gave birth to her youngest child -- she decided it was time to change her life drastically.
She weighed 274 pounds and wore a size 22.
Although Zelinsky had struggled with her weight for most of her life, it was two nearly back-to-back pregnancies that put her weight over the edge. Fast food and a sedentary existence didn't help matters.
"I was just tired of being so thick. I couldn't even walk half a block. My legs were aching and I would lose my breath.
"I was just not healthy at all and I was just tired of it."
Today it's hard to believe Zelinsky, 35, is the same person in her "before" photos.
She's lost 115 pounds and counting.
Weighing 159 pounds, the home daycare owner and part-time receptionist fits into a size 8, sometimes even a size 6.
Getting there wasn't easy.
While many experts advise it's best to set up small, incremental weight-loss goals, Zelinsky decided to go big; she aimed to lose 100 pounds from the start.
"I knew I had to. There was no question in my mind. I had to. And I did it," she says, noting the lifestyle changes that led her to her lofty goal were slow and steady.
It all started with a visit to the gym. Her sister accompanied her for added support.
It was a place Zelinsky hadn't been in years.
"You don't know where to start. And once you do start, you can't really do anything because you just don't feel good and you're just so big. But you just keep going," says Zelinsky, who lasted for 15 minutes on the elliptical machine before heading home and trying it again in a few days.
"It was uncomfortable. You are kind of upset with yourself because the reason that you are feeling those feelings is because you let yourself get like that."
Nevertheless, she proceeded with her game plan to exercise three times a week "and see how things went from there."
After a month, the pounds started disappearing and she had more energy. By that time, she started eating more nutritious fare.
Instead of hiring a trainer, she found her inspiration on the Internet -- mostly by following fitness pages on Instagram.
In the spring, Zelinsky and her husband, Glen, took up running with the help of a mobile app called Couch-to-5K. The program taught them how to work up to running five kilometres. "It trains you to run a 5K. It tells you when to walk, when to run. It's amazing."
Soon, the gym was a minor part in her exercise routine; she preferred running and fitness DVDs.
During the extreme cold, Zelinsky opts to run on a treadmill.
But running in the elements is something she can't live without; she and her husband often run along the trail by their home when the weather allows.
"Running outside, it's just amazing. I don't know. I crank the music and I just go. I can't even describe the feeling. I love it. I absolutely love it. And people think I'm crazy. They ask me, 'Why do you do it? Who wants to run?' I love it."
Nutritionally-dense food has also played a major role in her new life. Water is her beverage of choice over sugar-laden concoctions.
Her favourite lunch consists of a green smoothie she makes with vegetables, frozen fruit and almond milk.
Rather than count calories, she uses her common sense about portion sizes.
"I just eat healthier. If I am hungry, I will eat something, but I will make it a smart choice. The snack that I had yesterday was fat-free cottage cheese and some pineapple. It's delicious and it's sweet and it's perfect," says Zelinski, whose kids Kassidy, 13, Lexan, 3 and Briella, 1, love the healthful food choices their mother feeds them.
"I like to snack on snow peas, snap peas. They are so delicious and they are sweet. It kind of takes away a sweet craving if you have one," says Zelinsky.
Her success has garnered numerous inquires from strangers following her on Instagram. She loves to answer their questions and gets a confidence-boost whenever she can help someone.
She says her sense of self-worth has skyrocketed during her health journey -- a change just as dramatic as her 115-pound weight loss.
"We would go (out) and I never ever, ever really wanted to because I didn't want people to see me. I didn't want people to talk about me.
"And now I can't wait to be invited somewhere because... I want people to see me," says Zelinsky, who constantly thinks about her late brother as she meets new milestones in her life.
"Maybe he's even helping me get through it. I don't know."
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