As Kim Bibeau cycled with determination through Stages 6, 7, and 8 of the Tour de France — tackling the same steep mountain routes that Lance Armstrong and the other competitive cyclists had just cycled — crowds standing along the route cheered her on.
If they'd known just how far Kim had already climbed to get to that mountain, the crowds no doubt would have whooped and hollered even louder on that summer day in 2007.
Had they met Kim at age 30, those spectators would have seen a single mother of two young girls whose confidence and happiness were buried under the 75 extra pounds she carried on her 5-foot-7 frame.
Like so many people, Kim spent the first three decades of her 47 years overweight. As a child she thought she must be adopted because she was the only one in her family who was overweight — a distinction that brought relentless teasing from her siblings.
The first of many diets came when Kim was a seventh grader growing up rural Miccosukee outside Tallahassee, Florida. It was the start of a pattern in which she would diet down with the latest fad — low-carb, low-fat, you name it — only to eventually regain 60 to 70 pounds.
"I never did anything consistent," Kim said. "I had this idea in my head that it was all or nothing, that I had to give everything up or just quit. I didn't understand moderation."
She struggled with the scale throughout high school. She never went on a date. No prom. No homecoming.
She met her first husband during a "thin" phase in her 20s, just after she had lost 60 or so pounds for the umpteenth time. The day after the wedding, Kim started gaining weight again. Her husband told her he didn't want "a fat wife." She used two pregnancies as an excuse to stay heavy anyway, and she kept feeding her insecurities with food.
By the time her girls were in grade school, the marriage was over and Kim was creeping up over 200 pounds. The girls had never known a time when Mom wasn't dieting or overeating. One Easter, after yet another big weight loss, Kim started eating Peeps and other candy from the girls' Easter baskets.
"And before I knew it, I was 65 pounds heavier again," Kim said. "It literally started with that one Peep."
In 1992, a friend suggested she attend a Weight Watchers meeting. Kim went, figuring it was one diet she hadn't yet tried. But the first year, she actually gained a few pounds. She'd eat healthy for two days, then overeat the next two.
It wasn't until her second year of Weight Watchers meetings that something finally clicked. She started keeping a food log. She noticed patterns. She figured out the triggers that sent her into an eating binge. She started getting her 100-calorie snacks from apples instead of baked potato chips.
"For me, it all changed when I started admitting that I really love food, and re-training myself to not be prohibitive," she said. "I had to satisfy myself with smaller amounts. I figured out how to eat better, and to eat better relative to me —- not relative to anyone else, because it's an individual thing."
By 1994, Kim was down to 154 pounds. She added consistent exercise to the mix. She started walking during her lunch hour. After awhile, she "splurged" and found room within her tight budget to join Gold's Gym. She did lunchtime classes so that the exercise didn't interfere with evenings with her girls.
In 1999, at the urging of a fitness instructor friend, Kim got certified to lead group classes. The next year, she got certified to teach Spinning. The overweight mom who had once been too embarassed to walk into a gym was now teaching classes.
"I can't believe it sometimes," she says. "I would read all those success stories like in Shape magazine, and always it would say how this person used to be overweight and now they teach at the YMCA. And I thought, well that will never be me."
Today, Kim is healthy and strong at 135 pounds. She is happily married to Brian, a fellow Spinning enthusiast. She is a real-life Badass. In the past few years, she has become like a surrogate mom to me. I call her "Aunt Kimmie." In her, I see a kindred spirit whose childhood food struggles aren't gone, but have been largely defeated through determination and hard work.
The best part: Kim is using her own success and struggles to help others. Kim now leads local Weight Watchers meetings and organizes fitness and healthy eating challenges for staff at the Florida Capitol where she works.
"It is priceless," she smiled. "I love doing it for other people because it has made such a difference in my life."
Anyone who has taken one of her Spinning classes knows that there is no slacking in a Kim Bibeau class. She often says -- as her class is sweating buckets and pedaling faster at her urging — "C'mon, now! Are you exercising, or are you working!? We came here to work!"
She learned the real meaning of "work" during all those hours on the Tour de France with Brian. The rides took hours, and the mountains were steeper than anything she had ever faced. But Kim used the same Badass will that she used to shed all that weight and find her strength -- mental and physical.
"It was so emotional," she told me. "I thought, 'I cannot believe I am here.' "
"Even today, I'll start eating too much and I'll think, 'Is this my Peep? The thing that will send me into another binge?' But I have learned that the best thing to do is to step back and stop the cycle. We make it so much harder on ourselves than it has to be. We expect such perfection, and in a way that we don't do in any other areas of our life."
Kim's journey to Badass was a lot like one of her Spinning rides: Filled with steep climbs, euphoric highs but also plenty of dark, low valleys. Her story is the story of so many of you. She is one of you. One of us. She is walking, cycling, food-journaling proof that you can find a healthier, stronger you.
Kim told me a few days ago that she doesn't mind the difficult, painful years that brought her to her current Badass state.
"I know why I struggled for so long," Kim smiles. "It's so that I could get right here. So that I could help other people."
Shannon Colavecchio is a Tallahassee-based reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. This story is taken from her Badass Fitness blog, badassfitness.typepad.com/badass-fitness/.