Texas woman loses half her weight on journey to become a FF

Penny Leaver lost her job in 2020 and was having serious health issues. Now she is a volunteer firefighter

By Leila Merrill

FARMERSVILLE, Texas — Penny Leaver had dreamed of becoming a firefighter since she was a kid, but in adulthood developed unhealthy habits and gained weight, she told People Magazine.

Leaver began having health issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and episodes of supraventricular tachycardia. At age 40, she understood that she needed to do something.

"Nobody really explained to me why or how or what exactly I needed to do until the last time I went to the hospital and the cardiologist was like, 'You're not going to live to your next birthday if you don't get your weight and your life under control,' " Leaver told the magazine. "And that was what I needed to hear, to be able to be motivated to start something new after failing so many times before."

She signed up for a weightloss program called Optavia and lost seven pounds in the first week. Then 24 pounds in the first month.

"I think the pivotal point for me was realizing that this was not a diet, that it was a lifestyle change," she said.

She had dropped half her size – 160 pounds – in 15 months, but she lost her job in September 2020 because of the pandemic.

Leaver was stressed out and eating in response to emotions, but her weight loss coach pointed out that Leaver could change her career. So she did. She started preparing for the firefighter physical agility test.

"There's definitely a difference between being fit and being firefighter fit," she said. "You use a whole different set of muscles."

Leaver passed that test, has completed her first round of fire academy training while working as a volunteer firefighter for the Farmersville Fire Department.

She plans to start EMT training and appeared on Good Morning America recently.

"I'm very proud of how far I've come," she said.

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