Julia Wessel ran her third half marathon without stopping.
And for all 13.1 miles, she stayed alongside her daughter Ashley. The women crossed the finish line with their hands clasped together and raised in the air.
The Lincoln race — The Good Life Halfsy — was a steppingstone along the mother-daughter duo’s weight-loss journey. In a little over a year, they’ve lost more than 150 pounds combined.
Wessel, 46, kicked things off. The Seward, Nebraska, woman decided in May 2017 that it was time for a change.
For starters, she wasn’t happy with how she looked. Wessel, who weighed about 242 pounds, said she was self-conscious and felt “like the elephant in the room all the time.”
Another motivator — her sister-in-law Michelle Seifert was training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Her preparing to do that and having the drive and ambition inspired me,” Wessel said.
So Wessel signed up for Weight Watchers, now called WW. She’s always struggled with her weight, especially after she had children.
Wessel loves to eat, and said she lacks self-control. She described herself as a “volume eater.” Before joining the weight-loss program, Wessel might have eaten a full DiGiorno pizza at one meal.
Weight Watchers taught Wessel portion control and how to swap out certain ingredients to make meals healthier. Within a week, she was hooked.
“When you step on the scale and see that, it just absolutely energizes you and makes you think, ‘OK let’s do this,’ ” Wessel said.
About a month later, Wessel added in running. She used to run in junior high and in her early high school years. The exercise made her feel good and made losing the weight easier.
“I’d always envied the idea of runners,” Wessel said. “They choose to do something that’s not easy. ... But it’s rewarding.”
By September 2017, Wessel’s daughter Ashley joined Weight Watchers and started running, too. Watching her mom go through the program was “crazy awesome” and prompted her to give it a try. Ashley Wessel, 26, weighed 255 pounds when she started. She’s down more than 80 pounds about 14 months later.
Meanwhile, Julia Wessel joined her sister-in-law Seifert, who was training for Kilimanjaro, on hikes and bike rides.
Later, all three women would tackle the Lincoln Marathon’s 13.1-mile distance. About five months later, the Wessels tackled the Halfsy.
Seifert said once Wessel started exercising, it flipped a switch.
Things are progressing naturally for Wessel now, Seifert said. She’s changed her body and her attitude toward healthy eating and exercise.
“She seems more comfortable in her own skin. It’s been kind of amazing to watch,” Wessel’s sister-in-law said.
Julia Wessel has dropped more than 70 pounds in about 18 months.
She found ways to make little changes. Like on the Weight Watchers program, she can still eat a full pizza. But she uses a two-ingredient dough, barbecue sauce, fresh onions, chicken and fat-free cheese. It isn’t quite as good as the real deal, but it’s a solid substitute, Wessel said.
“The thing I love about Weight Watchers is you use real food,” Wessel said. “There’s no packaged requirement. They don’t deliver something to you or say you have to drink a liquid meal. There’s no pills. It’s regular food that everybody else eats.”
Instead of eating a typical cake, Wessel mixes a can of diet pop with cake mix and bakes it. She’s also worked on portion control, like eating ½ cup of mashed potatoes. Or nibbling on a cookie instead of eating one in a single bite and then grabbing a second.
Mother and daughter have swapped recipes. Along the way, they’ve both had ups and downs, but they took each day as a fresh start.
“It’s been awesome,” Ashley Wessel said. “It’s been so much easier than it has the couple of times I’ve tried to do things on my own.”