Dr. Danielle Mitchell is ironclad proof that exercise and healthy living can completely change one's life.
Mitchell, a sports medicine doctor at Erlanger and team physician for athletes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, began running and training for triathlons five years ago. At the time she was overweight and not living healthy as she did her medical residency in Minnesota.
"It was 2007 and I was training to be a surgeon and living a crazy, crazy mad lifestyle and working a whole bunch of hours," she said last week before leaving for New Zealand to compete in her fourth Ironman Triathlon. "I had always been overweight, and during that time period I went from being obese to being morbidly obese. I was almost 250 pounds."
The Oregon native realized she needed to make a lifestyle change, and she began using the Weight Watchers program. Then a friend introduced her to triathlon training.
Within two years, Mitchell had lost more than 100 pounds, and in 2009 she completed her first Ironman Triathlon.
Mitchell has been in Taupo, New Zealand, all this week getting ready for Saturday's Ironman New Zealand, which will be her fourth Ironman distance triathlon.
Ironman is the most grueling triathlon format, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle segment and a 26.2-mile run.
The changes for Mitchell were more than physical. Her newfound love of endurance sports and physical changes also inspired her to refocus her medical career.
"As I was making that lifestyle change I started getting interested in sports medicine at the same time," she said. "When I started becoming more active and began riding my bike and training for triathlons, people started coming to my practice and asking me about athletic issues.
"That made me realize that I wanted to pursue that with my career."
Mitchell, who was trained as a family practice doctor, began studying the medical needs of athletes, and she's now a licensed sport medicine doctor and moved to Chattanooga five months ago to work for Erlanger hospital as the UTC team physician.
Consistency is the biggest challenge Mitchell cites as she works to maintain her healthier lifestyle.
"When you ask what's the hardest part, I think maintaining overall consistency with your patterns and behaviors," she said. "I define myself as an athlete now, and that really does affect my decisions with regards to how I choose to live my life.
"Eating for me is different: I don't talk about food. I talk about fuel and fueling your body because it's a machine."