SACO — Jen Small was a party girl. A regimen of Diet Coke and cigarettes by day, and much stronger beverages, good food and more cigarettes at night.
She married a football player from the glory days at Biddeford High and had a good job at a medical lab. Life was fun. Her weight reached 250 pounds but she didn’t hear any alarms. She wasn’t listening.
That was about five years ago.
Tuesday, I walked into a pub in Saco for a lunch date with a 38-year-old, 125-pound triathlete. A very fit blond-haired stranger sat alone in a booth with her laptop open. Jen? Jen Small?
It’s difficult to downplay the transformation. She was never an athlete at Biddeford High. She tried competitive figure skating and showing horses during her middle-school years. She tried more traditional team sports. She wouldn’t commit herself to any. Run? She was a self-described couch potato.
Just three years ago she cheered herself after completing a mile on a treadmill without stopping. On Sept. 1, she swam, biked and ran 32 miles in the Revolution3 half-triathlon at Old Orchard Beach. Small finished 190th out of 444 entries and eighth out of 27 in her 35-39 age division.
Three days after the coming New Year, she’ll join 11 other runners in a 200-mile Fat to Finish Line relay race from Miami to Key West, Fla. The individual stories of those who lost an average of 100 pounds will be told in a documentary film centered on the two-day relay.
She plans to enter a marathon and next summer, a full triathlon in Cedar Point, Ohio. She has picked up sponsorships through her new membership on the Revolution3 triathlon team. Her racing bike, she says with some amazement, is worth more than her car and her husband’s truck.
“It’s an older truck,” said Small, “but you get the idea.”
She has a new job as a personal trainer. “When I started, I didn’t have the money for a trainer or a nutritionist or any of the support people you should have. But not all trainers have walked in my fat shoes like I did.” She realizes she can be that coach and that trainer for someone else.
The former Jennifer Ouellette got religion soon after she got pregnant. Certainly the nicotine and the alcohol had to go. “Oh, I really abused my body.”
After daughter Lauren was born, Small decided she didn’t want to be a fat mom. “If you’re healthy and happy, you’ll be a better mom and a better friend.”
Small sat back and smiled more broadly. She and Casey Small have been together for more than 13 years. He was the youngest of three brothers who played for football coach Mike Landry when Biddeford was the dominant high school team in the 1980s. This summer Casey Small got religion, too. He pushed away the beer more often, talked to his wife about a training plan and started running. He did his first three miles recently. The last time he did that was in his college days at the University of Southern Maine, running around Portland’s Back Cove with his hockey teammates.
Now he wants to beat his wife on the bike, which has become her strength.
“They called her the freight train (at the Rev3 competition). She was moving,” said Casey Small. “But I’m coming.”
Jen Small dreams about becoming a professional triathlete although there’s relatively little money in the sport. Being a role model to her daughter is more important. “I want my daughter to think she can do anything.”
Small has a blog: milesmusclesmommyhood.blogspot.com. She doesn’t want mothers to think it’s too difficult to compete and raise a child. She also knows her husband has stepped in to care for Lauren when mommy is away from home training or competing.
“I think it’s awesome what she’s done in the last two years,” said Casey Small. “It doesn’t surprise me. She’s always been very strong-hearted. You can’t tell her she can’t do something.”
Jen Small knows she’s changed. She doesn’t hide her so-called fat photos. She wants people to see where she’s been and where’s she’s going. She also knows this:
“No camera can go inside me and take a picture of what really changed. I’m very happy.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]