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Teacher Inspires Others Inside Classroom and Beyond

A Kirkwood kindergarten teacher who lost 128 pounds through healthy eating and regular exercise was honored for her commitment to heart health and a physically active lifestyle.

It took a broken chair for Kathy Collier-Paul to decide once and for all to get healthy.

“I was as low as I’d ever been,” said Collier-Paul, describing how she broke a chair when she sat down at her daughter’s dance class three years ago. “At that moment, it just came together and I realized I’m either going to die fat or do something about it.”

That was the start of a new life for Collier-Paul, a longtime teacher at in Kirkwood. Through healthy eating and regular exercise, she has lost 128 pounds since then and not only changed her life but inspired others along the way.

Last month, Collier-Paul, 40, of Ballwin, got a standing ovation at Busch Stadium when she was awarded the Lifestyle Change Award from the St. Louis chapter of the American Heart Association during the Heart Walk opening ceremonies.

Collier-Paul was nominated for the award by the mother of one of her kindergarten students, Kaitlyn Wetzel.

“I could not have asked for a better role model for my daughter,” Kaitlyn’s mom, Carrie Wetzel, wrote in her nomination. “She has learned so much from her and not just the ‘book’ knowledge, but real life lessons about healthy eating and exercise.”

Collier-Paul said she had struggled her entire life with compulsive overeating. Through the years, she tried various methods of losing weight – at one point losing 80 pounds but then gaining back more.

She said her success finally came not through diet, but through a complete overhaul in how she lived. She cut out the unhealthy foods that triggered her to overeat, like white flour and sugar, and made herself move everyday, whether it was playing with her two daughters, taking a hike, jumping on a trampoline or running.

She marvels that just three years ago she struggled to walk through a park and now can brag about having completed eight 5Ks, a 10K and two half-marathons.

In April, she ran the entire 13.1 miles of the GO! St. Louis half-marathon. Her daughter, Katie, 10, ran with her during miles 8 and 9  – “the really hard ones,” Collier-Paul said. “We talked to each other the whole way. She was integral.”

That same weekend, daughter Abbey, 6, ran her first mile.

Collier-Paul said she realized how important it was to set a good example for her daughters, not only for their physical health but their self-image too.

“It’s scary to realize what I was teaching them,” she said of the days when she was too tired to play with them or criticized her own appearance.

Collier-Paul said her daughter Katie told her recently: “You like yourself now. You don’t talk bad about yourself all the time.”

“They were listening and I didn’t know it,” she said.

Katie and Abbey say they are proud of their mom’s achievements.

“She’s worked so hard and I’m glad because now I can be healthier too,” said Katie, who was inspired by her mom to join the group Girls on the Run.

But it wasn’t just Collier-Paul’s daughters who benefited from her lifestyle change.

Collier-Paul has learned to celebrate classroom achievements without food. She and her students now are more likely to have a dance party, go for a walk or take an extra recess.

“You don’t need candy to tell kids you’re proud of them,” she said.

Collier-Paul now hopes to complete a full marathon. But she knows that making healthy choices is a full-time job.

“Every single day is hard,” she said. “I have to decide if I’m going to eat that donut or am I going to get up and run. I fail a lot. It’s still frustrating -- I still have to fight the negative self-talk. I think I’ll always have to fight it.

“But the days I exercise I feel better about myself. I feel healthier and I have more energy.”

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