When Desiree Richards found herself in an emergency room frightened by her heart racing in her 388-pound frame, the lifestyle changes she needed came into sharp focus.
Food had always been a refuge during difficult times, like her mother’s death when she was 10 and her parents’ divorce before. Doctors restored her heart’s regular rhythm, but on the horizon she could see conditions like diabetes and the possibility of early death.
“I didn’t want to go down that road,” said Richards, 27. “I would have been another statistic.”
Instead, she has become an inspiration, dropping more than 200 pounds in about a year and a half.
It started with an online deal that brought her to the Title Boxing Club gym in south Arlington in September 2013. At first, she could hardly finish the hourlong exercise class. Now, four times a week she jabs and uppercuts her way through an intense workout that blends cardio, resistance and interval training and rounds out sessions with a focus on core muscles.
With guidance from the gym staff, she has changed her eating too, counting calories and tracking percentages of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Vegan pizza, smoothies and baked vegetables have replaced the junk food she used to crave.
“When people find out she lost 200 pounds they’re like ‘Wow!’” Title Boxing instructor Omar Benjar said. “She’s definitely an inspiration to others. She works hard, and she doesn’t stop.”
Richards is at home among the gym’s rows of heavy black bags and often arrives before class to work out on an elliptical machine. She lifts weights two times a week in addition to boxing and sometimes wears a weighted vest to make her workouts more rigorous.
Though the boxing workout isn’t easy, Richards enjoys it. At the end of one, “I feel like I can do anything,” she said.
Richards, who graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a master’s degree in social work in December, is eager to share her story of weight-loss success but acknowledges that the path to a healthier lifestyle won’t be the same for everyone.
“It’s important to really own the process. There are all kinds of people out there who will tell you all kinds of things, like ‘You need to follow this program,’ ‘You need to take this pill,’ ‘You need to get this surgery,’” Richards said. “Try some things out and just see what works for you.”
While the change in the mirror is great, Richards said she’s also been rewarded by the relief she has brought to friends and relatives who worried for her health. She can’t help but smile as she talks about bringing the grandmother who raised her for much of her childhood to watch her boxing workout.
Title Boxing Club owner Simon Raphael said the impressive part of Richards’ story came before the 200-pound loss. Her dedication from the outset has been an inspiration, he said. Raphael recalls seeing Richards returning to the gym again and again determined to overcome the odds she was facing when she weighed nearly 400 pounds.
“That’s the fight,” he said. “That’s the hard part.”
Richards’ philosophy is reflected in the advice she gives people she counsels in her job at a local mental healthcare facility when they need to make a change in their lives. Hers is the voice of experience.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Could I fail?’ Yes, I could. But if I don’t try, I don’t have any chance at success,” she said.