Overdressed and sweating in the frosty Alaskan weather, she falls over into the snow. Her elongated feet come unglued from the grooves they were sliding back-and-forth in. Standing up on two legs becomes an unexpected challenge when learning to cross-country ski. After solving the puzzle of entangled skis and poles, she presses on.
It is perseverance and determination shaping the new Christine Morgan, a cost estimator technician in the Cost Engineering Branch at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Alaska District. She has lost 70 pounds since her first race in the 2011 Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Ski League.
“I felt like the biggest person to ever be on a pair of skis,” Morgan said.
She took on the sport after coworkers urged a new employee to do winter activities. Joining the Corps team that met twice each week during lunch time was one suggestion. A gentle nudge to participate together from the colleague persuaded her to click-in. After agreeing to hit the trails, Morgan experienced disgust over her first outing. She weighed approximately 250 pounds at the time.
“I absolutely hated it,” she said. “I overdressed, I was really out of shape, I sweated, I fell…It was just horrible.”
Morgan refused to give up, however. She made a commitment to give skis an honest shot and raced in every league meeting that season. Her teammates inspired her to continue each week. They didn’t care she was dead last or mention anything about her weight, Morgan said. It was only important that she show up.
“She was amazing in her tenacity,” Mary Leykom said, a project manager in the Regulatory Division and veteran skier of the team.
After the 2011 winter ended, Morgan initially found herself only 10 pounds lighter. With the snow melting and the days getting longer, she needed something to keep her going.
“I wanted to do it next season and I want to be better at it,” she said.
The soon-to-be dry pavement meant marathoners would be coming out of the woodwork. Runners in the office talked about participating in a half-marathon. Morgan knew she couldn’t run the race, but firmly believed she could walk it. She started doing research online and plotted weekly goals to begin training.
“It was about being fit and be able to do things,” Morgan said. “Especially as I get older, because it’s important to keep moving.”
A combination of exercise and a healthy diet helped the 50-year-old Morgan lose the weight during a six-month period, getting her down to 180 pounds. She visited health professionals in Anchorage to consult about ideas and tips on how to eat right. She said they helped her develop a dietary program.
“I still eat what I want,” she said. “I just don’t eat things exactly when I want it. It’s a matter of being strict with myself and focus on portions.”
The lifestyle change has been an inspiration to her family. Morgan said her oldest daughter has since lost weight as well and her youngest has taken up martial arts. Her goal is to reach 170 pounds, but she is still very pleased with her progress so far.
“Honestly, if I don’t lose another pound, I could care less,” Morgan said. “It has been such an improvement in my life and I’ve never wanted it to be a focus on losing weight.”
Since her first year attempting the Nordic sport, she completed two half-marathons and a series of 5K and 12K events. She offers advice to others hoping to accomplish similar weight loss goals with the words “find something you like to do.” Skiing was her catalyst.
Leykom has skied most of her life and witnessed Morgan come into her own as a two-planker in the 2012 season.
“She started using the skis as if just walking,” Leykom said. “This year she was really skiing, gliding, stretching out and using her arms.”
Morgan said she wasn’t always last and that her race times improved. It is the little things that can’t be experienced from the couch that make it all worthwhile.
“When I stopped on the trail to adjust my glasses, I would look around. I’d see squirrels and moose,” Morgan said. “It made me really appreciate Alaska a lot more.”
Falling down might be inevitable for every novice, but now that Morgan is in better shape the impression in the snow is smaller and looking great.