Forget Jenny Craig and Jared “The Subway Guy” Fogle; Richmond Hill has its own weight-loss icon — Jennifer Kantanen.
In just one year, the 36-year-old mother of four went from a life-threatening 300-plus pounds to a svelte 160. Once intimidated by a flight of stairs, she now runs marathons.
“I changed my life, and I’ve become the person I want to be,” said Kantanen. “I feel like nothing can stop me now that I’ve found my strength.”
Kantanen, like her mother before her, struggled with obesity her whole life, suffering from weight-related health problems and lifestyle restrictions.
“One day it hit me that if I can’t overcome this, then I can’t teach my children to overcome it, and they’re going to face these same struggles,” she explained. “That’s when it clicked. I started looking for information on how to become healthy, and how to do it right.”
So in 2009, shortly after moving to Richmond Hill, she started cutting calories and exercising daily. Within nine months, she’d reached most of her goals.
“For the first time in forever I weighed less than 200 pounds. I had a healthy body mass index, and I was able to shop in a regular department store. It was an amazing feeling,” she said.
Since then, she’s continued to improve her health and personal fitness through a newfound love of running. In the past two years, she’s run six half marathons, one full marathon and several 5K races. Next up? A triathlon in October.
“I’m not the fastest, and I’m OK with that. Just crossing the finish line is a huge accomplishment. It’s not about being the best. It’s about being my best.”
Kantanen’s new self-image and passion for fitness have inspired her to share her message with the community. Since 2011, she’s served as head coach of the Richmond Hill chapter of Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit running program for girls ages 8-13.
According to Kathy McCarthy, program coordinator for Girls on the Run Coastal Georgia, Kantanen is the ideal role model for young girls.
“Jenn is just amazing. Every day she’s with the girls, she’s modeling the behavior of a girl on the run — someone who respects herself and knows her own value.”
GOTR is a goal-oriented program that promotes self-awareness, positive relationships and self-empowerment.
“It’s about teaching girls to make a lifetime of good decisions. It’s about confidence through accomplishment,” explained McCarthy. “We are not just a running program — we are a transformational learning program that uses running as a goal-setting tool.”
GOTR is currently seeking participants, volunteer coaches and running buddies. The fall season begins Sept. 24 and lasts 10 weeks, concluding with the 5K Celebration Run on Dec. 15 at Savannah State University.
Those interested in joining the program or signing up for the Celebration Run, which is open to the public, should visit www.girlsontherun-ga.org or email Kathy@girlsontherun-ga.org.
For more information on Kantanen’s personal weight-loss journey, visit her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/IDidICanIWillAndSoCanYou.