mary-sanders_web.jpgPOMPANO BEACH — Mary Sanders once tipped the scales at nearly 800 pounds but has slimmed down to 372 and considers herself positively skinny – so much so that she has become a regular on the marathon and charity run circuits.

The Pompano Beach resident was on the tracks yet again on Sunday, when she ran/walked her fourth Miami Marathon. “I’m a little achy but, overall, it went well,” she said Monday while trying to recuperate from the 13.1 miles she walked/ran in five hours and 19 minutes, completing the half marathon.

“I do more walking than running but I feel pretty good about it,” Sanders said. And well she should, said her coach, Mary Marbach, who is with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program in East Broward, which trains survivors of the ailment and supporters for 5K, marathons, cycling and triathlon events.

“She did terrific,” Marbach said of Sanders. “She’s an awesome competitor with a huge heart and she never gives up.” Along the Miami route, which started at the AmericanAirlines Arena downtown and snaked over to South Beach across the Venetian Causeway and back to the Bayfront Park, Sanders got a lot of cheers.

Sanders joined Team in Training in 2009 after her father died from lymphoma but she has run/walked in other 5K, 10K and marathons for charities and churches as she works her way to her ideal weight of 225-250 pounds.

She underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2003 and lost 417 pounds. Since then, besides marathons, she walks between four and eight miles a day and goes on a different charity run once a month.

“I don’t know how I’m going to react when I get down to 250,” she said. “That would be very skinny to me. I was 300 pounds by the time I was in sixth grade. In high school, I was 425.”

Morbid obesity runs in Sanders’ family. A first cousin weighed 900 pounds and another came in at 600. A young relative weighs 400.  It was when Sanders ballooned to 789 that she decided something had to be done, she said. She had diabetes, suffered congestive heart failure and was taking 49 pills a day.

“The weight started taking a toll on my body. It certainly wasn’t helping my heart,” said Sanders, 45. She said gastric bypass was the best thing for her. “I did it to stop feeling like I was going to die every day,” she said.

She participated in a study which found that she was overeating for three reasons: heredity, bad eating habits and being an emotional eater. 

“Heredity outweighs what I eat,” said Sanders, who now eats a  low-carbohydrate diet that includes meats and steamed vegetables. Before the surgery, she put away six pancakes, four eggs, two long sausages and other food — for breakfast.

But even at her largest, Sanders was a go-getter, she said. While morbidly obese, she got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and, last year, she earned  a doctorate in Health Care Administration. She would like to open a nursing home.

She credits her grandfather for these accomplishments, saying he “never let me have low self esteem. I might have done things slower but I was taught by my grandfather that I could do anything.”

 She also works fulltime and has been on her job as a billing manager for Quest Diagnostics for 17 years. The company paid for her gastric bypass surgery. “They gave me a check for $25,000 because they didn’t want me to die,” she said.

Sanders is also a fan of first lady Michele Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce obesity, especially among children.

 “I wish she was around when I was a child,” Sanders said. “Her campaign is near and dear to my heart. I wish I’d had someone to tell me no.”  She recalls getting on the scale in physical education in the sixth grade and weighing 301 or 302 pounds, while all the other pre-teens weighed around 98 pounds.  “I went home crying but my family told me not to worry about it,” she recalled.

But her family also encouraged her to eat all the food on her plate at mealtime. Being large was all they ever knew, so they didn’t try to stop her from eating, she said.

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MARATHON RUNNERS: Mary Sanders, center, of Pompano Beach is flanked by Britteny McCloud and Donna Jenkins of DeLand at the Miami Marathon on Sunday.