HURLEY – There always seems to be feel-good stories that come out of each Paavo Nurmi Marathon. One of the best ones in the 2013 Paavo, set for Saturday in Iron County, belongs to Amanda Koivisto-Niemi of Bessemer.
And sometime around noon on Saturday, Koivisto-Niemi will be standing on Silver Street feeling very good about herself after she finishes running with her five-person relay team. It will have nothing to do with the time she ran.
It will have everything to do with the simple initials and number printed on her team’s tee-shirt — G.C. 112. It means all the runners on the five-person relay team work for Gogebic County and the number stands for the weight Koivisto-Niemi has lost in the last 30 months.
One year ago, Koivisto-Niemi would have never believed she would run in the Paavo much less finish her leg in the relay.
“My older sister, Krissy, has always been trying to get me to run,” she said. “But even in school, I had never finished a mile without walking. I’ve always been heavy my whole life and I probably lost and gained back the same 30 pounds four or five times.
“I was actually going to have to have the gastric bypass (surgery). My husband and I went up to Duluth and I sat through the two and one-half hours of talking to the surgeon. When we walked out of there, I said I couldn’t do that and I needed to do it on my own. And I needed to do it for myself and my kids. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be able to do things for my kids, with my kids and all-around just live a healthier lifestyle.”
Koivisto-Niemi knew she needed to lose a lot of weight or “a very big number” as she called it. Her family doctor told her that she couldn’t look at that big number or her task would look too overwhelming. He advised her that she needed to go day by day.
Koivisto had lost some weight in the previous two and one-half years, but she also knew this was the right time in her life to take off a lot more weight for good.
“I’m 33 years old and until I hit 30, that’s when I finally started getting it into my head that I needed to do something,” she said. “That’s because the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight.”
Koivisto-Niemi developed her own individualized plan for losing weight. First, she didn’t necessarily change what she ate but how much she ate. She said it was “portion control.”
She also took her sister’s advice and started running on a treadmill during the winter.
“I’d run a minute, walk two minutes, run a minute, walk two minutes,” Koivisto-Niemi said. “I just started building it up. Then I ran outside in the slush and the snow. Right now, I run five miles every other day and sometimes our relay team runs together. When I finally ran five miles, I went into work and said I was ready to run the Paavo. A bunch of girls at work said they were doing it with me.”
Each runner will run about five miles and the anchor leg will finish the race by running six miles. Koivisto-Niemi will be the third runner in the relay.
Koivisto-Niemi said a big help through all the training and losing weight was that she had a great support group behind her. It started with her kids and husband, Scott, as well as the women at work and on her relay team. For that reason, she said the G.C. 112 team members were all going to run together for the last three-quarters of a mile in the marathon.
Koivisto-Niemi said thoughts of running in the Paavo was another source of motivation for her.
“That was one of the goals on my bucket list,” she said. “That was something I always wanted to do and I’m finally going to be able to do it. I grew up in Saxon and went to school in Hurley. That’s my hometown thing. And the Paavo’s been around so long that it just stuck in my head that it was the one I really wanted to run.”
It’s been a job well-done and Koivisto-Niemi makes it clear she is not dieting but has made a lifestyle decision.
“I’m not going back to losing and gaining that 30 pounds,” she said. “I lost that 30 pounds, plus another 50 pounds on top of that. And then it just kept coming off and now I’m 112 pounds less (than two and one-half years ago). And now I’m getting ready to take off even more. I want to take off another 20-25 pounds. That’s where my doctor and I want to be.”
Koivisto-Niemi said she has lost so much weight that many people who have not seen her for awhile tell her they didn’t recognize her at first sight. And she still keeps pictures of when she weighed the most to remind herself of what she never wants to go back to.
There has been one negative to all the weight she has lost. Her wedding ring no longer fits and she has to wear it on her middle finger so that it doesn’t fall off.
“I guess I’ll have to get it re-sized,” she laughed.