Woman loses 160 lbs. and becomes a firefighter at age 43

Texas woman whose weight ‘spiraled out of control’ loses 160 lbs. and fulfills her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter at age 43

  • Penny Leaver, 43, had been an athletic child but started to gain weight in college and weighed 316 lbs. at her heaviest
  • She said she felt ‘horrible’ and ‘hated herself’ but also developed health conditions like high blood pressure
  • When she developed a heart condition that could lead to a heart attack, her doctor said she would die if she didn’t ‘do something’ 
  • Leaver began a weight loss program called Optavia and lost half her body weight in 15 months
  • After she lost her job in the pandemic, she began training for the physical agility test to enroll at her local fire academy
  • She is currently attending the academy, works as a volunteer firefighter, and expects to have full certification next year 
  • A Texas woman fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter after losing 160 lbs. and passing the physical agility test to enroll at her local fire academy.

    Penny Leaver, 43, had been an athletic child but started to gain weight in college, and it soon ‘spiraled out of control’ to the point where she weighed 316 lbs. at her heaviest.

    But after a serious health scare, the Farmersville, Texas resident got serious about changing her lifestyle and went on to lose more than half her body weight.

    When she lost her job during the pandemic last year, Leaver took it as an opportunity to both change careers and get into incredible shape, and recently finished her first round in the fire academy. 

    ‘There’s definitely a difference between being fit and being firefighter fit,’ she told People. ‘You use a whole different set of muscles.’

    A Texas woman fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter after losing 160 lbs. and passing the physical agility test to enroll at her local fire academy

    A Texas woman fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter after losing 160 lbs. and passing the physical agility test to enroll at her local fire academy

    Penny Leaver, 43, had been an athletic child but started to gain weight in college and weighed 316 lbs. at her heaviest

    Penny Leaver, 43, had been an athletic child but started to gain weight in college and weighed 316 lbs. at her heaviest

    She recently lost more than half her body weight by changing her lifestyle

    She recently lost more than half her body weight by changing her lifestyle

    Leaver said she had been quite athletic when she was younger, playing sports like basketball and softball and participating on the drill team

    ‘I was active and thin and I was able to do whatever I wanted to do,’ she said.

    But she began gaining weight when she went away to college, and continued to put on more pounds as time passed.

    ‘I kind of slowed down my exercise and started eating things that I was not allowed to have when I was growing up,’ she told Good Morning America

    At her heaviest, she said, she felt ‘horrible’ and ‘hated herself.’

    ‘I would have breakdowns in dressing rooms trying on clothes and then go eat afterwards because that was what soothed me,’ she said.

    She said her weight 'spiraled out of control' and she felt 'horrible'

    She said her weight ‘spiraled out of control’ and she felt ‘horrible’

    She became pre-diabetic and had other health conditions like high blood pressure

    She became pre-diabetic and had other health conditions like high blood pressure

    When she developed a heart condition that could lead to a heart attack, her doctor said she would die if she didn't 'do something'

    When she developed a heart condition that could lead to a heart attack, her doctor said she would die if she didn’t ‘do something’

    Leaver dedicated herself to a weight loss program called Optavia and started losing weight quickly. She also found that she had more natural than before

    Leaver dedicated herself to a weight loss program called Optavia and started losing weight quickly. She also found that she had more natural than before

    Her weight contributed to health problems, too: In addition to being pre-diabetic and having high blood pressure, she had dangerous episodes of supraventricular tachycardia in which her heart would race and put her at risk of having a heart attack.  

    ‘My pulse was 236 just sitting at my desk at work,’ she said. 

    Doctors would tell her to lose weight, but it wasn’t until her last episode when a cardiologist struck a nerve, warning her she wouldn’t make it to her next birthday.

    ‘I was 40 years old and the thought of not making it to 41 made it clear that I needed to do something,’ she said.

    Leaver dedicated herself to a weight loss program called Optavia and started losing weight quickly. She also found that she had more natural than before.

    ‘I started feeling amazing and I think that helped even more than the actual scale,’ she said.

    In just 15 months, she’d shed 160 lbs.

    Leaver suffered a setback in September of 2020 when she lost her job during the pandemic and turned to emotional eating

    Leaver suffered a setback in September of 2020 when she lost her job during the pandemic and turned to emotional eating

    While thinking about her next steps, Leaver remembered her childhood dream of being a firefighter and threw herself into getting in goof enough shape to pass the physical agility test

    While thinking about her next steps, Leaver remembered her childhood dream of being a firefighter and threw herself into getting in goof enough shape to pass the physical agility test

    She has already passed her first round at the fire academy and will soon start her second. She hopes to be fully certified by next fall

    She has already passed her first round at the fire academy and will soon start her second. She hopes to be fully certified by next fall 

    ‘It kind of made me feel a little invincible,’ she said. ‘If I could accomplish that goal, I could do whatever else I put my heart to.’

    But Leaver suffered a setback in September of 2020 when she lost her job during the pandemic and turned to emotional eating.

    The setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though: While thinking about her next steps, Leaver remembered her childhood dream of being a firefighter and threw herself into getting in goof enough shape  to pass the physical agility test.

    She passed it, and has since begun working as a volunteer firefighter and posed for a series of photos for KL Photography.

    She has already passed her first round at the fire academy and will soon start her second. She hopes to be fully certified by next fall.

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