Yelm woman trades living in the past for bright future

Miki Rommel-Howell says if you want to know what she was like a year ago, just dig up an old episode of “Married with Children.”

“I was like Al Bundy from Polk High,” Rommel-Howell said, referring to the stuck-in-the-past character played by Ed O’Neill. “You know, he didn’t do anything and was obsessed with his high school past.”

Rommel-Howell, a 43-year-old hairstylist from Yelm, was a standout soccer player at Bethel High before she graduated in 1989. She was second-team all-South Puget Sound League and was so active she didn’t have to pay much attention to her eating habits to stay fit.

When her soccer career ended, she said, “I still saw myself as that athlete and I still ate like that athlete, but I wasn’t an athlete.”

By the time she was in her early 40s, Rommel-Howell was carrying nearly 240 pounds on her 5-foot-4 frame.

And while she reminisced about her days on the soccer pitch, it wasn’t the glory days that inspired her to reclaim her athleticism. It was Glori.

Glori Schneider of Sumner is one of Rommel-Howell’s clients. Several years ago Rommel-Howell watched in awe as Schneider shed more than 60 pounds over 1½ years.

“Each week I noticed the difference and I thought, ‘I can do that,’ ” Rommel-Howell said. Schneider encouraged Rommel-Howell to call her trainer, Tessa Effland of Tumwater. “Glori said, ‘She’s going to save your life.’ ”

Rommel-Howell promised to call. She did, but it took her nearly three months. And even then, there were excuses. Her scheduled didn’t mesh with Effland’s, the eating program seemed too hard and she feared a boring diet.

“I’m not eating chicken and broccoli 24/7,” she told Effland. She didn’t have to, Effland assured her.

Effland, owner of Fit Life Studio, has heard every excuse and has helped many overcome their obstacles, perceived and real.

“She was pretty adamant that she didn’t have time,” Effland said. Rommel-Howell’s work often means 12-hour work days. Carving out time for her family — boyfriend Rick Lenz and teenage boys Curtis and Cody Lenz — was more important than making time to eat right and exercise.

It wasn’t going to happen, she said. Effland’s response was the same, Rommel-Howell would soon learn, as it would be every time she made an excuse for not trying.

“She’d say, ‘OK,’ with this little tone,” Rommel-Howell said imitating a polite but firm tenor. It was an OK that meant “not OK.”

Soon, Rommel-Howell was rearranging her schedule, figuring out how to get to Tumwater to meet with Effland, drafting a team of friends to work out with and learning to eat properly.

“If you can make time for everybody else, then you can make time for yourself,” she said.

The hardest part: Learning to eat right. Learning to part with food that had few — if any — redeeming qualities other than they were quick, inexpensive and tasty.

“I had to be mindful and it was emotional,” Rommel-Howell said of giving up unhealthy food. “It was like a breakup.”

She didn’t have to give up most of her favorite foods. She just had to eat less of them.

Her Achilles heel for years was peanut butter. “I told Tessa, ‘Don’t give me onions, and don’t take away my peanut butter.’ ”

Effland made sure peanut butter was a regular part of her meal plan. But no more than two tablespoons per day.

It worked. “I don’t wake up hungry anymore,” Rommel-Howell said.

And that’s just one of the rewards Rommel-Howell has collected on the path to better health.

She’s transforming, losing 35 pounds in the first three months.

Once physically unable to tie her own shoes without Rick’s help, this was suddenly a task she could do on her own. And she could cross her legs again.

Small things adding up to a huge victory.

It’s been 10 months since her first meeting with Effland. She’s lost 70 pounds and 45 inches. She reduced her body fat percentage by 20 points. And she’s still going. She plans to lose 30 more pounds by November.

She’s done this without sacrificing fun, as she’d initially feared. A trip to Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho and a 14-day Caribbean cruise didn’t derail her new healthy habits.

As for the glory days, the memories are still fond. But she’s learned that now is better than then. And more important.

She’s reclaiming some of that athleticism. Walking has evolved into running. On May 28 she finished her first 5-kilometer race. And she recently signed up for the May 17 Capital City Half Marathon.

“As soon as I clicked ‘confirm’ I thought, ‘What did I just do?’ ” Rommel-Howell said.

But like an athlete, she welcomes the challenge. After all, she’s already conquering a bigger challenge by reclaiming her body and her life.

“It has to come when you are ready,” Rommel-Howell said of taking on the challenge of getting fit. “It fell into place for me because I wanted it.”