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As pounds vanish, fitness appears

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Penny Snell chuckled when asked whether she has ever been an athlete. The 49-year-old wife and mother used allergies as an excuse to get out of running during her high school P.E. classes. Snell had nothing against exercise or sports. Her weight kept her on the sideline because she feared others would laugh. Her only form of competition was the never-ending battle of the bulge. “I’ve always been overweight,” Snell explained. “I’ve always been trying to diet or gaining weight.” Her low point came on New Year’s Eve in 2009 when she went to a party at her friend’s house and wore XXXL sweat pants because nothing else fit. At 5-foot-3, she weighed 270 pounds. Snell spent most of the night digging into the chocolate fondue. As she said, “I gorged my face.” “At that point, I had given up,” she added. Her friend had another New Year’s Eve party two weeks ago. Snell attended, but her XXXL sweat pants stayed home this time. They do not fit anymore. They are too big. Snell has lost 108 pounds. Gone are the weekends when Snell would go to an amusement park and could not fit into the rides. Gone are the evenings when she had to ask a restaurant hostess not to be seated in a booth. “My family went to (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo) and I tried to ride Medusa (a roller-coaster). I couldn’t fit,” she said. “Three or four ride operators jumped on the bar, and I still didn’t fit.” Gone are the days when she figured everyone in the California Family Fitness club was watching her waddle from one machine to another and waiting to see whether she would pass out. Snell is still drawing looks these days from club members who cannot believe what they are seeing. Her workouts are often interrupted by members who stop by to applaud Snell’s efforts. There was a time when she tried to blend into the club crowd. Now she can find nowhere to hide. Her decision to join the California Family Fitness club last March was more cosmetic than courageous. With her daughter’s wedding a month away, Snell vowed to “look good” for the photos. In search of motivation, Snell began attending the Group Interval Training classes led by trainer Claudette Pugh. As much as Pugh could tell Snell was in need of support, Pugh kept her distance. “She wouldn’t even make eye contact with me,” Pugh said. “When people get like that, I will give them their space. I started to talk to her gradually. It took a couple of times to break the ice.” Snell laughed as Pugh recalled those days. Now a day rarely goes by when one does not send a text message to the other. Snell has also made a habit of including photos with her messages. At her friend’s party two weeks ago, Snell sent a photo of the fruit and vegetable trays to Pugh. That was Snell’s way of letting Pugh, who at the time was at a restaurant with her husband, know how far she had come and that she was behaving. Pugh also received a message from Snell when Snell was trying on jeans at a department store. Snell has gone from XXXL to a size 10. Pugh did not waste any time in responding to the text. “AWESOME!” Pugh’s Christmas gift to Snell was a pink T-shirt from Victoria’s Secret. Snell did not think of shopping at the boutique when she was overweight even though she had always dreamed of doing so. “I’ve got a surprise for you,” Pugh wrote in a text message. Snell had no idea what would be coming. “I thought it would be an exercise,” said Snell, who tried on Pugh’s gift in the bathroom at the club because she did not expect it to fit. She was surprised when it did. In fact, it was a little loose. A recent text from Snell to Pugh included a photo of a black forest cheesecake that Snell and her husband, Nathan, were considering buying at a store. Pugh fired back with a bit of advice. “Step away,” Pugh wrote. “I thought you would say OK,” Snell replied. “In your dreams.” That caused Snell to LOL (laugh out loud). Snell knows better than to try her luck with the veteran trainer. After all, it was Pugh who talked Snell into competing in the club’s Body Fit Challenge last August. Snell worked out with a group twice a week for six weeks and then on her own for two weeks. Winners are determined by the percentage of body weight lost. Snell was the top woman at the Rocklin club. She has come a long way and lost a lot of weight since her first class with Pugh. “I didn’t think perfectly fit trainers would have time for fat people because fat people are a joke,” Snell said. “I lucked out.”