Mary Thoma picks up national award
By Scott Bellile
When Mary Thoma of New London put on weight following the death of her father, she turned to exercise to channel her grief.
Now not only has she lost 100 pounds, she will also gain a national award this month for her feat.
Thoma and three other Americans were chosen as this year’s Anytime Fitness National Member Success Story Winners. On Aug. 29, Thoma will accept her award in Nashville, Tennessee. She had what judges considered one of this year’s most remarkable success stories out of the gym’s 3 million members across 3,000 U.S. franchises.
A problem arises
Thoma’s story goes like this: In October 2010, Thoma’s father Louie Klegin, a Bear Creek native, died of ALS at home in Manawa three years after he was diagnosed.
“We watched our dad, who was the strongest man on Earth, just deteriorate in front of our eyes,” Thoma wrote in her story.
She gradually put on 48 pounds. A January 2013 vacation to the Riviera Maya in Mexico required her to buy all new clothes to fit her expanding body. She stayed behind while her friends went on tropical excursions to avoid slowing them down.
Back at home, her bowling game worsened. At work she couldn’t walk from her car to the front door of Hillshire Brands without taking a breather. She could barely maintain her flowerbed or wash the floors at home.
“Everything that I enjoyed in life I either could not do or struggled to do,” Thoma wrote. ”I used to lay awake at night wondering what I was going to do. Was I going to see retirement age at this rate?”
A March 2013 visit to her doctor cast doubts on living to retirement. Thoma’s cholesterol had spiked. Her future could include knee replacements, heart disease and diabetes. She was at 290 pounds and 51 percent body fat and was now on seven medications.
“I’m telling you, I [had] low mental esteem,” she said at Anytime Fitness this summer. “Even though on the outside I was smiling, on the inside it was painful.”
Thoma turned to her late father. In a hypothetical world where one could fend off ALS by going to the gym, she asked would he have done it. She concluded he would have.
“He had the greatest desire for life that I have ever seen,” Thoma wrote. “This was my sign to beat my issue with obesity. I did have the chance to beat it unlike my dad, who was dealt a card he could not play.”
A friend brought Thoma to Anytime Fitness to condition for an upcoming bowling tournament. Gym owner Chris Polanco welcomed Thoma and assured her body shaming was forbidden at his establishment.
Polanco remembered her looking shy and scared.
“She didn’t believe in gyms,” Polanco recalled recently.
But Thoma felt reassured. She immediately signed up for a one-year membership. Her three hours per week working out would remain secret at first because she doubted her ability to stay with it.
Her assigned personal trainer Konrad Korth instantly connected with her and pushed her. After one month she lost six pounds and 13 inches. After three months it was 17 pounds and 34 inches.
She donated her oversized clothing to charity. Her impressed doctor took her off three medications.
Thoma returned to Mexico for New Year’s 2014 and participated this time with her friends and husband. She could walk across her hunting land without stopping to rest.
She would go on to lose 100 pounds and counting, and she said she could feel her father smiling from above.
Besides helping herself, Thoma and Anytime Fitness regulars started a workout group called the Golden Girls that carries out community outreach. The 18 women and five men have raised money for cancer patients, the food pantry, ALS research and more. Thoma hopes to raise $15,000 in 2015 for anyone in need.
Thoma’s proud moment
Korth said he contacted Anytime Fitness’ corporate to inform the higher-ups there was a story unfolding in New London. Thoma submitted her story. Korth learned in April Thoma received the honor but couldn’t tell her until June.
“Trying to keep a secret from her is pretty tough, especially when it’s something this special,” Korth said.
Thoma said the feeing remains unreal but it’s an amazing feeling to shine the spotlight on New London.
Laurie Shaw, executive director of New London Area Chamber of Commerce, said Thoma’s national recognition is an honor for the city.
“Mary is an inspiration to many in our community not only for her weight loss and wellness journey but for her positive attitude and effort to make a difference in the lives of others,” Shaw said. “I am proud to know Mary and the Golden Girls. They are doing a great job of bringing awareness to those in need in our area.”
A video on Thoma’s story will be available later this summer on the homepage of Anytime Fitness’ website, according to the company’s media director Mark Daly.
Thoma said she owed her success to her personal trainer.
“Konrad literally saved my life,” Thoma said with a glance at him.
Not wishing to take much credit, Korth replied humbly, “That’s what I’m here for.”