Pat Kuras wears a No. 83 Lee Evans jersey and Buffalo Bills earrings to work every Friday and during Bills games she watches on weekends at home.
“I’m an avid football fan and I’m upset with the Bills,” said Kuras, of North Collins, who works in human resources at Carrier Center Erie 2-Chautauqua BOCES in Angola.
Even so, she was thrilled with the third installment of the Independent Health-Buffalo Bills Health and Wellness Challenge. She won the grand prize. Not only will she and her three sons get a free trip to the NFL Pro-Bowl in Oahu Hawaii, but the 66-year-old mother of four and grandmother of seven lost 21 pounds during the six-week contest that ended last month.
She was among more than 10,300 people – including 3,665 new participants –to participate. Each one of them agreed to daily get at least 20 minutes of physical activity, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, and drink at least eight glasses of water.
(Coming New Year's Day on the Refresh Buffalo Blog: A nurse's aide/Pilates instructor sees two different worlds; plus see a link to last weekend's story about how to create a workable New Year's Resolution, plus this weekend's Refresh checklist to help you choose the right gym.)
“Before, I would eat anything in sight: candy, cookies,” she said. "I’ve always been a large person but not a big person, so when I saw this opportunity, I thought ‘What the heck? This is really great. I love fruit, I love vegetables. I like exercise of different kinds.”
The challenge came around at a good time.
Her husband, Norm Sr., a smoker, suffered a debilitating stroke at age 50 and died seven years ago at age 62. During his illness, Kuras found her comfort in food, and packed on so many pounds she had gastric bypass surgery shortly after he died. She dropped 100 pounds but put some of them back on in the years since..
The 5-foot-7½-inch Kuras went from 242 to 221 pounds during the challenge – and has continued to follow its tenets since, dropping a few more pounds.
“Every once in a while, I have to have a piece of chocolate – milk chocolate,” she confessed. “I don’t like dark chocolate.
“I don’t have cholesterol or blood pressure problems but I needed to lose weight. I want to get lower, to 200 pounds.”
How hard was it to accomplish the three goals laid out in the challenge?
“The hardest challenge was the water,” she said. “I don’t care for it. I made sure I got to it in the morning and would go all day. I’m a tea drinker. I like green tea. The vegetables were hard, but not as hard. I’m a grazer, so it wasn’t hard to grab and eat fruits and vegetables. The exercises, I did with my friend. I also have three dogs – American cocker spaniels named Faith, Phoenix and Autumn – and we walk in the morning, as long as it’s not snowing and blowing, and at night.
Kuras also took a chewable multivitamin every day and spent more time going up and down stairs for exercise.
“I started doing squats,” she said. “My legs are sore but improving slowly. I’ve been trying to add something different to my exercise because I get bored.”
She’s had more energy since starting the challenge.
“Before this, I’d crash at 8 o’clock at night,” she said. “Now I can stay up till 11 and still get up at 4:30 and I’m not tired. I was happy that my clothes fit me better. Some people don’t care but I was excited to put on a pair of pants and say, ‘Oh my gosh, look at that, I lost some weight around my waistline.’”
What habits slipped by the wayside?
“I cut back on bread,” she said. “Honestly, I cut down on the candy. And I started looking at food differently. My eyes were always bigger than my stomach. I’m a person who always told everybody, ‘Don’t throw things away. Put just what you need on your plate. You can always go back for more.’ I took that advice and started making small portions. I’m eating more salad and meat and fewer potatoes.
Her son, Jim, a culinary arts instructor at the same BOCES site where Kuras works in human resources, helped her expand flavor profiles of healthier foods, as well.
Now Jim, who also lives in North Collins, will join her for the NFL Pro Bowl, along with his brothers, Norm Jr. and Billy, who both live in South Carolina.
Kuras’ daughter Michelle Badawiyeh, who lives in Denver, isn’t jealous. Mom is visiting for the holidays.
“Besides,” Kuras said, “she told me to take her brothers because she has two little ones and two almost teenagers at home. She told me her husband, Basil, will take her one day.”
Kuras looks to continue her healthy habits.
“I’m still doing the challenge goals and trying to increase other activities,” she said. “I do quilting with the Loose Threads group. I know that’s not a great big activity for people but it keeps your interest and helps you meet other people. We do quilting for charity. It’s also good for your mental health. Once you start feeling better, you start doing things.
“After my husband died, I had to get out of that depression and start going forward. Mentally, I think I blossomed more. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry myself, I started doing things – and the exercises made me feel better. You have to have family support to do it. I have support. When I wanted to change my body, my kids said, ‘Ma, you’re doing great,’ ‘Ma, I see that you’ve improved and you’re having fun in your life.’ My church – North Collins Wesleyan – is a support system. They were happy to see me come back to church. I stopped going for a while because I was depressed.
What would Kuras say to someone in their 60s, or older, who concludes, “I’m not going to be able to change my ways and get healthier?”
“I don’t think it’s ever to late to be healthy. People have to realize you can’t stop living just because you think you’re too old to do anything. There’s always something for someone to do, even if you’re in a wheelchair. And if you put good food into your body, your vegetables and your fruits, it gives you more energy.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon