GREENVILLE — Out of breath at the top of a flight of stairs and her lips and fingers tingling, a 363-pound Tiffany Duffield decided she had had enough. At 29 years old, she had to lose weight.
“That was my breaking point. I called my husband and said I can’t do this anymore,” Duffield said. “I felt like I was going to die.”
But that was six years ago, and that was a different Duffield. Today, Duffield, 35 and 220 pounds slimmer, fitness is her life. She is the manager at Snap Fitness in Greenville, is a competitive cyclist with a team in Rockford and has a whole new outlook on life.
“There are so many things I couldn’t do that I can now,” said Duffield, who with her husband Jeramy have three daughters, Brianne, 16, Aspen, 10 and Chloe, 8. “I can take my girls to the movie theater now and not have the arms poking you in the side. I can go to the amusement park and ride all the rides and not fear if the bar will close.
“My daughters got a whole new mom.”
“She couldn’t physically do what she wanted to do, like play with the kids or ride a bike,” Jeramy Duffield said.
“It’s allowed us to do a lot more as a family. We go to the beach and the park and are able to have fun.”
Struggles with weight began early
Weight was always an issue for Duffield, dating back to her early teen years.
“I was always chunky,” she said. “As a kid it was thunder thighs. I was a chunky girl and I never did anything to take care of it.”
Things would get worse before better. At 15, Duffield’s father died of heart disease, albeit not weight related. Following her father’s death, Duffield’s health continued to spiral.
“From there I just gained weight and gained weight,” she said. “Nobody wants to be in that position. You just get there because Big Macs are good.”
And the weight piled on. At her biggest, Duffield reached 363 pounds. At 5-foot-3, she was classified as morbidly obese. She feared the medical consequences being so overweight would have. Because her father had heart disease, she knew she was already a candidate for it herself.
“I was so afraid to go to the doctor for so long because I was afraid of what may be wrong with me,” she said.
Then, one day, she just got fed up.
Her breaking point
As she stood still out of breath from the stair climb, Duffield knew she needed to drastically change her lifestyle.
She had grown tired of being overweight, unable to do many of the things she wanted, especially with her three daughters.
The first course of action was changing her diet.
“I loved food growing up. That’s how we are as Americans, we love food,” she said.
But that had to change.
“I cleaned out the cupboards and began eating healthy and never looked back,” she said.
Soon after she began to workout at home, following along to DVDs that guided her through walking in place “because that was literally all I could do.”
After about three months, Duffield had begun to see results. She had already dropped nearly 40 pounds.
Her appetite for food had subsided, replaced by a hunger for fitness.
A long journey
Seeing her work thus far had produced results, Duffield was more motivated then ever.
She dusted off a bicycle she found in her grandmother’s garage, began riding and a love for cycling grew.
First it was a few short rides, but before long she had a goal; to ride to her mother’s home, 11 miles away.
With Duffield, goals don’t go unaccomplished. It took three hours, but she felt her own strength as the tires rolled off the road and onto her mother’s driveway.
There was no holding her back now.
“It steamrolled from there,” she said. “I began running. I did a few 5Ks, they almost killed me, and then I did a 10k.”
As the workouts grew longer and harder, the weight kept coming off. First 50, then 100 and after three years she had reached 183 pounds lost.
It was time for a bigger challenge; The Fifth Third River Bank Run 25k race.
It once took her three hours to ride 11 miles on a bicycle. Three years later, she finished the more than 15.5-mile run in the same amount of time; 3:06:31.
But her transformation didn’t end there. In fact, it will never end, she said.
A new life
The overweight, out of shape woman Duffield was less than a decade ago doesn’t exist anymore. The decision to change her life probably saved it.
“I’m terrified to think of the condition I would be in now,” Duffield said.
She said she looks back on herself from six years ago and doesn’t even know that person anymore.
She leads a new life, a healthy one.
She now manages the Snap Fitness center in Greenville and can usually be seen, earbuds playing her workout playlist, going from machine to machine working out whatever that day’s schedule calls for.
She now races competitively for Speed Merchants, a team based out of Rockford.
“I grew up riding a bike and now I am able to share that passion with her,” Jeramy Duffield said. “It’s literally been blood, sweat and tears.
“Watching all the hard work and dedication has inspired me to get back into riding and running and being physically fit.”
At Snap Fitness, she can share her story and help others on their journey to good health.
“I have women who walk in here and are where I was and I can tell them my story,” she said. “I can relate.”
And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Finalist for governor’s award
Duffield’s longtime friend and high school classmate, Audrey Ringleka stumbled across the Governor’s Fitness Award nomination requests after signing up for emails after taking part in the governor’s Labor Day Bridge Run across the Mackinac Bridge.
“I just got an email with a sort of newsletter and there were five or six categories for awards,” Ringleka said. One of those categories was “Conquering Obesity,” which is given to someone who has turned to a healthier lifestyle to overcome health concerns through balancing healthy nutrition and exercise, while encouraging others to do the same.
It seemed to describe Duffield specifically, Ringleka said.
“I think she affects pretty much everybody she meets,” she said. “She always makes people want to be better.”
So Ringleka nominated Duffield for the award, thinking she had a good shot at being named a finalist.
“She’s an extreme motivator. She really inspires people,” Ringleka said of Duffield. “She’s really a true inspiration.”
Sure enough, months later Duffield got the call.
“I’m just sitting there and a Nathan from the governor’s office called,” she said. Duffield had been named as one of three finalist for the award and was invited to a ceremony April 24 at Ford Field in Detroit, where the winners will be announced. “I was really excited. It’s a huge honor.”
While her journey wasn’t for any sort of recognition, Duffield said, the competitor inside can’t help but want the top spot.
“Oh I want it,” she said with a smile. “I want to win.”