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'Spiritual' force moved woman to break cycle of obesity

TAMPA — A stern-but-loving observation, interjected into one of Andre Hicks-Dolphin's daily routines, forever changed the trajectory of her life.

"I'll never forget that dark day," Hicks-Dolphin said. "I was sitting on the front porch with my sister, who is my best friend. It was a casual Sunday afternoon after church, when I got up to go into the kitchen and check the progress of our family dinner."

As usual, the meal consisted of an oversized batch of fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and other fatty foods. Adding to the calorie bonanza: several trays of butter- and sugar-infused corn bread.

"When I returned, I was completely fatigued and could hardly breathe," Hicks-Dolphin said. "My sister looked at me, and said, with a frightened glare, 'What's wrong with you sister? What do you want to do, die?' "

Hicks-Dolphin said her sister had seen an "image of near deathlike exhaustion" on her face.

"With her frightening words, something spiritual enveloped my entire body at that very moment and I knew then that a profound change was about to enter into my physically and mentally overtaxed existence," she said.

At that moment, Hicks-Dolphin weighed 493 pounds, trapped in a miserable cycle of morbid obesity.

Today, two years later, she has lost 178 pounds. What makes this transformation stand out is that she dropped the weight while enduring two bouts with breast cancer and multiple chemotherapy treatments.

•••

After her spiritual awakening on that 2014 day, Hicks-Dolphin did five things to change the course of her life:

1: Set an appointment with her primary care doctor for a full medical evaluation.

2: Signed up at a gym, where she still goes five mornings a week, putting in two-hour sessions of cardio and weight training.

3: Connected with a life coach from a nationally recognized health supplement company. The coach made sure Hicks-Dolphin stayed with the program by drinking the prescribed protein shakes and vitamin products.

4: Prayed every day to give her strength to stay on a healthy path.

5: Refused to quit the program and kept believing she could do it.

"The first week I lost 13 pounds," she said. "I was so excited that I could actually see my hard work pay off. I stayed focused, rallied to the cause and made the life changes necessary to be healthy, happy and spiritually strong."

•••

As with other overweight people, her condition didn't happen overnight.

A 1983 graduate of Jefferson High School, Hicks-Dolphin grew up in Tampa's Carver City neighborhood. Bad eating habits, together with little to no exercise fueled a continual weight gain throughout her adult life.

But not until she reached close to 500 pounds, and had her awakening moment, did she begin to take steps to grow healthier.

With today's fit and active lifestyles, you can find people of all shapes, sizes and positive attitudes as they sign up for gym memberships, aerobics classes and weight-reduction programs. At the forefront of this fit lifestyle explosion stand uniquely special women breaking new ground in improved fitness and massive weight loss, doing it all without the aid of fad-driven weight-loss gimmicks.

Hicks-Dolphin just hopes she can continue to represent those changes. Doctors recently diagnosed a return of her cancer, but she remains upbeat.

Contact Michael Merino at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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