RIVERVIEW — To celebrate Mary Hertzel's dramatic weight loss of more than 180 pounds, Riverview Anytime Fitness owner Brian Kleinschmidt asked to take her picture with a pair of her old pants.
She stood holding the teal pants that could easily fit two of her now and smiled without showing her teeth. When Kleinschmidt prompted her for a bigger grin, Hertzel pulled him aside with an admission:
Her dentures no longer fit properly because of the weight loss in her face.
Kleinschmidt knew he had to do something so Hertzel could "shine from the outside," too.
"This woman has lost all this weight, now bursting at the seams with self-confidence, but too shy to show it on the outside," Kleinschmidt, 33, said. "We wanted to give her the new smile she deserves."
Now, with the help of fellow gym members, Anytime Fitness' corporate office and Brandon Smiles dentistry, Hertzel will have brand-new dentures or implants that fit her slimmer face.
"You never really think someone would notice that about you," Hertzel said. "They're awesome people."
Two years ago, Hertzel weighed 348 pounds, walked with a cane and suffered from diabetes and sleep apnea. She had enough of not being able to play with her grandchildren.
A simple drive by the Anytime Fitness near her home in Riverview prompted her to check it out. She was immediately greeted by a friendly trainer and was hooked. Hertzel loved the group fitness classes because of the encouragement from fellow gym-goers. By March 2015, she was going five days a week, sometimes twice a day.
"I started noticing people were recognizing I was losing weight," she said. "As time went on, I noticed my heart wasn't racing anymore, and I didn't need my cane."
Now at 167 pounds, Hertzel, 46, no longer takes heart or diabetes medication or sleeps in a chair wearing a breathing mask.
"I was crying the other day in the gym when I realized I could jump rope," Hertzel said. "I sleep in a bed now — that's been such a big thing."
Hearing Hertzel's story and witnessing her weight loss journey prompted Kleinschmidt to act.
Brandon Smiles offered to create a new set of teeth for Hertzel for $2,000. Anytime Fitness agreed to foot half of the bill. The remaining $1,000 will come from the Riverview gym's fundraising efforts.
"The positive energy from this is spreading through the gym like wildfire," Kleinschmidt said. "We just want to get Mary's story out there and hopefully inspire other people."
When Hertzel joined Anytime Fitness more than a year ago, she was nervous about fitting in but now sees fellow members as family. In trying to get in shape, she already had the support of friends and family, but also of those in a place where she "never thought in her wildest dreams she would be accepted."
"I always have a home there with them," she said. "I feel so blessed; it's beyond words."
Though the remainder of the funds for Hertzel's new smile are coming from gym member donations, Hertzel plans to work for it. For every dollar raised, she pledges to do a push-up, burpee or another workout.
"I was tired of being the one who sat back and watched everybody," she said. "Now I ride bikes, go swimming with my grandkids, and I just got my daughter to go to the gym with me."
Hertzel said when she gets her new smile, she wants to get a makeover, get her hair done and buy herself a new dress.
"I haven't worn a dress since middle school," she said. "I look in the mirror, and I'm happy with who I am today."
Contact Chelsea Tatham at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @chelseatatham.