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Starting over Decision to face challenges, excuses shapes path to wellness

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Andrea Matthes embraces 'imperfect life'

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/15/20/09/L0Bok.Em.138.jpeg|200
    LUKAS JOHNSON - ljohnson@charlotteobserver.com
    Andrea Matthes' journey to a healthier self comes with extra challenges. She has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes insulin resistance. That makes gaining weight easy and losing weight difficult. It also causes infertility and other side-effects. She writes about her life, shares recipes and exercise tips on website, imperfectlife.net. She trains at CrossFit Unite in downtown Concord.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/15/20/09/6aMzM.Em.138.jpeg|243
    LUKAS JOHNSON - ljohnson@charlotteobserver.com
    Concord's Andrea Matthes once weighed 325 pounds. The 5-foot, 1-inch, 36-year-old now weighs 172. She's also competed in more than a dozen obstacle course races and earned her personal training certification in August.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/15/20/09/m29Sz.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - COURTESY OF ANDREA MATTHES
    Before Concord’s Andrea Matthes got involved in CrossFit, she couldn’t run more than 100 meters, she couldn’t do lunges or squats without falling over and her maximum weight peaked at 325 pounds. Fast forward to today and the 5-foot, 1-inch, 36-year-old has lost more than 150 pounds, she always finishes her workouts and she can run for two miles without stopping.

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A couple of years ago, Concord’s Andrea Matthes couldn’t run and couldn’t do lunges without falling over, and her maximum weight peaked at 328 pounds.

Fast forward to today, and the 5-foot-1 36-year-old has lost more than 155 pounds. She always finishes her rigorous workouts, and she can run for two miles without stopping. She’s also exceeded her goal of participating in at least a dozen races and last month she earned her personal training certification.

Matthes’ next step will be to create an online personal training business in addition to her wellness website, imperfectlife.net, where she blogs about her life, shares recipes and exercise tips, and manages a support group of more than 200 people.

“The website helps guide people looking to change their lives through … the realization that perfection is not necessary in order to be successful,” Matthes said. “I believe that anyone can start over from any aspect of their life. … You (just) have to find something that makes you feel hopeful and that it’s possible to succeed. I think that’s where we can get discouraged.”

Progress through change

All her progress came as a result of a dramatic lifestyle shift that has included weight-loss surgery, a healthier diet, regular race events and CrossFit training – a strength and conditioning program centered on full-body workouts.

Matthes, who works in software sales, moved from Phoenix to Concord in 2008 with her husband, Brett. In 2011, she had gastric bypass surgery. Six months after, she had lost 67 pounds and competed in her first 5K mud run. She said the surgery provided her with the ability to not give up.

Matthes’ journey to a healthier self comes with extra challenges. She has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes insulin resistance and makes gaining weight easy and losing weight difficult. It also causes infertility and other ailments. After Matthes and her husband decided not to have kids, she began to focus on her health.

Matthes has struggled with her weight her entire life. She weighed about 270 pounds throughout her 20s and reached her heaviest after turning 30. Like others, she tried diets and got discouraged by slow results.

She’s creeping toward her goal weight of 165 pounds, which she hasn’t weighed since she was 13. Her latest weigh-in result of 172 pounds came after a four-month plateau of being stuck between 182 and 192 pounds.

“Even though the scale kept fluctuating I never gave up,” she said. “Plateaus and fluctuations are part of the process; it’s how you respond to them that determines your success. This is the biggest and most important lesson I’ve learned since I started this journey.”

Last September, Matthes met the weight requirement for all the activities at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, so she spent 10 hours kayaking, trying out the zip line, maneuvering the ropes course and whitewater rafting.

“There are things that I’ve wanted to do my entire life that I haven’t been able to do and now I’m finally able to do them,” she said. “I always thought I was happy, and people who knew me felt the same, but I wasn’t filled with joy like I am now.”

Perfection vs. success

Matthes joined Concord’s CrossFit Unite in 2012, after struggling for months without a trainer or proper plan. “I was sort of lost, doing it on my own,” she said. “I had no direction or accountability, and I wasn’t motivated.”

Her recipe for success? Take baby steps and celebrate small, non-scale victories.

“I think my problem in the past was I took the all-or-nothing approach,” she said. “The focus of my website is all about recognizing you’re not going to be perfect your entire life and forgiving yourself for that. Because if you aim for perfection every time, you’re setting yourself up to fail.”

Jeff Switalski, 44, owns CrossFit Unite in downtown Concord.

“Andrea’s story is pretty spectacular,” he said. “I think her change is a lot more mental and emotional, as well as physical. The amount of weight she’s lost, the persistence she’s had, she’s definitely changed as a person and has become more confident and trusting. Nobody can tell anybody how to feel about themselves, but she has come to the realization that’s she’s not going to claim the ‘fat girl’ – her words, not mine – she used to be. She never gives up, she always finishes her workouts, and she does what she’s supposed to do.”

Quitting is a constant fear and there are always days when she considers it. “They’re more like fleeting moments,” she said.

While a gym membership helps some, it’s not necessary for everyone, Matthes said.

“Basically there are no excuses,” she said. “… You can’t use the excuse of money, You can’t use the excuse of time. You can’t use the excuse of not having someone to do it with you. It boils down to you making the choice to do it.”

Johnson: 704-786-2185
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