Hendricks County Woman Linda McElhiney Named 2023 Indy Mini-Marathon Ambassador
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Linda McElhiney was never heavy as a kid or young adult. It wasn’t until she began taking fertility drugs when she was 30 that the pounds started to creep on. Then, after giving birth to her son, Steven, the weight didn’t come off. She remained between 220 and 240 pounds until her mother got sick in 2011.
“That’s when everything imploded,” Linda says, a Hendricks County resident. “The stress of all that really took a toll on my health.”
She developed diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, tendonitis, and gout. All these ailments added up to her taking eight different medications. Linda, a pharmacist at Indiana University Health, knew better and wanted to do better.
“Here I am telling people to get healthy and I’m not taking care of myself,” she says. One day, she was at a pharmacy conference and was seated beside a man who told her he had undergone weight loss surgery. He went from 450 pounds to 180 pounds. Linda began researching the differences between gastric bypass and gastric sleeve surgery. The gastric sleeve is a relatively new procedure that didn’t start taking off until 2006.
Both surgeries reduce the patient’s stomach from its regular size to a small pouch. In a gastric bypass, doctors make a little pouch out of the patient’s stomach, leaving the stomach in that is not attached and then rerouting that pouch lower in the intestine. In gastric sleeve surgery, the surgeon permanently removes 80% of a patient’s stomach.
Prior to having surgery, most insurance companies will require the patient to attend seminars, support groups and counseling sessions. They also must commit to dieting for six months and are usually required to lose a certain amount of weight to safely endure the surgery. Linda was told to get her A1C down to an eight prior to surgery.
“Once insurance approves the surgery, you can’t gain weight,” Linda says. “It’s a test to see if you’ll stick with a healthier lifestyle.”
Linda, now 61, had gastric sleeve surgery in 2015. She dropped weight quickly post-surgery, losing 70 pounds in the first six months. It took a year to lose another 30 pounds. In total, she shed 120 pounds, going from a size 2XL to a size 8.
Initially following surgery, Linda participated in water aerobics to get in daily exercise as that was easier on her joints. She was making great strides finding her groove with a regular exercise routine until tragedy struck in November 2018 when her 29-year-old son, Daniel, died by suicide. The heartbreak rocked her world and, for a time, broke her spirit.
“I quit tracking everything, quit going to the gym and gained back ten pounds,” Linda says.
Though she was mired in grief, she knew she had to get her health back on track, so she decided to engage in the ‘year in miles’ challenge. In 2019, she committed to walking 2,019 miles between January 1 and December 31. To help her reach her goal, she downloaded an app called RunSignUp to help her find weekend races in the area. For instance, she did the Susan G. Komen More Than Pink run because her aunt passed away from breast cancer three months after Daniel died. She also began participating in other fundraising walks like ASMBS Walk from Obesity and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Out of the Darkness walks. She registered for fun, themed races like wine tasting or costume runs. Before long, she was participating in 5Ks, 10Ks and other races every weekend.
During the week, Linda typically walks two miles before work, 30 minutes during her lunch break and then if she’s not met her step goal by the time she gets off work, she’ll walk at the park in the evenings.
“I try to do 7.5 miles a day, Monday through Friday,” she says.
The first mini-marathon Linda ever did was at Purdue University, which was a hilly route.
“I thought it was going to be fun, but it turned on out to be really hard,” Linda says, who came in dead last. “It was so embarrassing. Here’s the policeman following behind me on his motorcycle. But I finished! And people were still clapping for me!”
The experience didn’t deter her from signing up for other minis—like the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon, which she has now done twice virtually and once live. She’ll participate again in person this May.
“The first time I did it I was amazed,” Linda says. “There were people all along the route cheering the whole 13.1 miles!”
This year, Linda has been chosen to be one of the 2023 Indy Mini-Marathon Ambassadors. She was selected not only for having shed 120 pounds, but also for participating in walking challenges and races since 2019. She estimates that she’s completed more than 100 races in the past four years. Though she usually signs up to do them solo, she has gotten to know others who regularly participate in these weekend races. She’s motivated to continue to remain active because when she’s moving, she feels better.
“Since working out more, I’m starting to do daring things I never would have done before,” she says. This includes indoor skydiving, ziplining, and taking a raft volcano exploration in Alaska. Her confidence has also been boosted ever since she’s dropped weight. She became president of the International Pharmacy Organization and she’s spoken at the Purdue AFSP Out of Darkness walk in April of 2022.
“I’ve become more outspoken and outgoing,” she says.
She has, however, been taken aback by how differently she’s been treated since losing weight.
“When you’re heavy, you’re often ignored,” Linda says. “But when I started losing weight and would walk into a clothing store, salespeople engaged with me a lot more. Or when walking down the aisle of a plane, when I was heavy, other passengers looked at me like, ‘Please don’t sit next to me.’ Now I don’t get that look anymore.”
Linda estimates that it takes roughly 18 months to two years to figure out what you can’t eat following gastric surgery. For her, she can’t tolerate potatoes, bread, rice, pop or pasta. If she consumes those things, she feels awful.
“If I eat too much sugar or too much fat, it’s like a mixture of food poisoning and an anxiety attack. I’m sick and sweating,” Linda says.
The best advice she would give to others looking to lose weight and keep it off is to track everything—especially what you’re eating and how much you’re exercising. You may also try to look into treatments such as CoolSculpting in Denver, CO to tighten the loose skin after losing weight.
“When I’m starting to stray, I can see why,” she says.
To register for the Indy Mini-Marathon, visit indymini.com. People who register can receive a $7 discount if they enter McElhiney23 into the promotion box.