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One Woman's Quest for Fitness Inspires a Community

Carole Carson admits she had abused her body for more than 40 years by eating too much, dieting every now and then, and not exercising on a regular basis. But one day, she decided to change that.

"I was 59 [years old] and I was approaching my 60th birthday. I stepped on the scale one morning, the numbers went up to 179 pounds [81 kilos] and then the scale broke," she recalls. "I'm only 5 feet one inch [1.5 meters]. I'm a very short woman. I said, 'That's it. You are going to make changes and those changes are going to last you for the rest of your life.'

Unlike her earlier efforts, Carson didn't follow a well-known diet like Weight Watchers or Atkins. She created her own eating plan.

"I started experimenting because I do like to cook. I took some of my old recipes that I really liked a lot and just changed them a little bit and took out the calories." She also added more fruits and vegetables to her diet.

Carson also started walking for one hour every day. She admits it was challenging to break her old habits, but she was amazed at the changes in her body, adding the "new life" is so much better than the old.

"I have so much energy. And also when I tested at the beginning of my makeover, my body was functioning like that of a person in their late 60s," she says. "When I finished losing 60 pounds [27 kilos] and completing my exercise program, my body now tested like a person in their late 40s."

As she started to see results from her life-transforming plan, Carson got so excited that she wanted to share her experience with everyone around her. She got in touch with her local newspaper.

"I offered to write a just one little newspaper article in the back page for seniors, about how you are never too old to get fit," she says. But the newspaper had something else in mind. "They put my article (and) my photograph weighing 183 pounds [83 kilos] on the front page of the newspaper. And they committed me to a weekly report. And at the end, after I had lost my weight, I invited people to join me."

Carson says the number of people who came to see her that day exceeded her expectations.

"We live in a little mountain community in northern California, Nevada City. We have a lot of seniors that don't like to drive at night." She expected may two dozen people would show up. "Boy, was I wrong! We had over 1000 people show up."

A gathering that was meant to be a one-time event became a weekly meeting when hundreds of people got inspired and decided to get fit. Carson says that's how the Meltdown Program was born.

"We organized ourselves into teams. At the end of the 8 weeks, we went from 128 teams to 208 teams. We kept growing. People didn't drop away. They got more enthusiastic. And we ended up losing nearly 4 tons.

Dorothy Volker, 69, signed up after reading Carole Carson's articles. She says the five people in her group were strangers when they started but remain good friends now. "We were able to support each other. We checked in with each other nearly every day."

Schoolteacher Ann Mitchell lost 19 kilos with the Meltdown Program and says her experience inspired many of her students. "A lot of the kids said, 'Oh, Mrs. Mitchell, you lost so much weight,'" she recalls. "We talked a lot about food intensely after that. We always were talking about what the children were eating, and what their parents were eating, and how maybe some of the kids could influence their parents as well."

In her book, From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, Carole Carson tells her community's success story. On her Web site she continues to motivate and inspire others. "I'm working with several communities here in the United States to replicate what we did in our county." She's also helping communities in other parts of the world and has written a manual to help people follow her plan.

Carole Carson says adopting a healthy life style, rather than just going on a diet, helped her neighbors achieve their goal of getting fit as they get older. She says the friendships they gained in the process are as important to them as the weight they lost.