At 49 and with deteriorating health, Janice Church knew she might not see 50.
She had battled ulcerative colitis for years, high cholesterol, numbness like that experienced by stroke victims and severe depression.
She was living in Maryland at the time and finally reached out for help.
"I was near death at the age of 49," she said. "I had many serious diseases and was on strong medication. I knew I didn't have long."
That was back in 1997. Church found the help she needed at the Weimar Center of Health and Education in California. The weight loss facility taught her how to eat, what to eat and got her on an exercise regimen. She stayed at the residential program for 18 days and left knowing how to take care of herself for life.
"When I arrived there I couldn't walk a block," Church said. "When I left I was walking three miles a day. I lost 13 pounds in 18 days."
Today, Church is 62 and a resident of Louisville. She has lost more than 100 pounds since she first cried out for help. She's now taking what she learned from her stay at the California facility and sharing it with others like her who have come to the realization that they were on a crash course with disaster.
One of the first things she did was give up meat and dairy, not so easy for someone who grew up on a meat and dairy farm. But today, Church has overcome the ulcerative colitis that almost cost her life. She said the vegan diet is what healed her body and she follows it to this day.
She has been offering cooking lessons from her home for people interested in this alternative lifestyle. She is a member of some meet-up groups and provides members with the motivation they need to make a change.
Then recently Church became a bit more recognizable. She was named one of the winners in the AARP Fat to Fit Challenge, which had 18,000 online participants. This AARP member had gone to the Challenge website and offered her first-hand wisdom and encouragement to others needing a gentle push.
The site has people wanting to know how to exercise from a wheelchair or tips on how to keep motivated with no outside support, Church said. She was one who felt a responsibility to pay forward what had saved her own life.
At her heaviest, Church, who stands 5 feet and 6 inches tall, weighed 275 pounds, in April of 1997. She lost down to 150, but recent hip surgery has kept her from being as active as she wants and she now sits at 170. "And working my way back down," she said.
Her cholesterol used to be a dangerous 312. It has lowered considerably with the diet and exercise changes. "I honestly didn't think anybody could help me," Church said, remembering when she was at her worst. She had to be helped out of a chair.
The first year, Church lost 60 pounds. Then 20, 10 and 10 more over the next three years. She has managed to keep it off by hiking regularly and working out at the gym.