When Jennifer Schleich stepped on her bathroom scale in July of 2016, the number she saw frightened her.

“I didn’t expect it to be 270,” says Schleich.

She had reasons for her weight gain: Pregnancy, the birth of her baby daughter and “just life in general,” she explains. And she’d always planned on losing the weight. She just never imagined the number would climb so high.

She called her husband, James, into the bathroom and showed him the number.

“Be honest,” she told him.

So he was: “I’m worried. If you don’t change something, this could steal years of your life with me, and I love you and I don’t want that to happen.”

That was the moment her life and health changed.

For years as Jennifer’s weight grew, James showed only support. He told her he loved her no matter what. He said the number on the scale did not matter to him — until it did matter for her health. They both knew it.

“I needed him to tell me the truth,” says Jennifer, 31, of Baldwin. “And that was the catalyst.”

First, she joined a gym.

“I remember when she came back the first time, she was gasping for air when she got home,” says James, 35. “She literally laid down on the kitchen floor, because she was nauseous and could barely breathe.”

“At first it was just walking 15 minutes on a treadmill,” Jennifer says. “But then two days a week became three days, three days became four. I started seeing results. Each time I went, I was able to do a little more.”

“Now she’ll go to the gym for two or three hours and it’s no problem,” James says.

Next, she added weights. She worked with a trainer, slowly increasing reps. One week she lost two pounds, the next week it was three. When she hit the 50-pound mark, she decided not to ease up, but to push harder.

So she started running.

Last summer, she ran a 5K at Kennywood — one year to the day after Jennifer was humiliated when she was told she could not ride a roller coaster there because she was too big.

She kept running and stretched the distances to five miles and more.

When she hit 10 miles, she thought: Why not run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon?

85 pounds lighter, Jennifer Schleich achieved her goal of finishing the Just A Short Run race in March at North Park. Image courtesy of Jennifer Schleich.

“For the first time, something like that seemed possible,” she said. “I just realized I like running. It’s an escape.”

Jennifer isn’t aiming to win the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Rather, she hopes to finish, and to beat her half marathon training run time of 2:47. Even if she doesn’t, though, she knows this race is a huge victory.

“For me, this is achieving a goal that was impossible,” she says, “and not even on my radar a year and half ago.”

Jennifer has lost 85 pounds so far. She is healthier than she’s been in years, and feels and looks younger now than she did before she got pregnant. She has less stress, and feels like a better role model for her four-year-old daughter, Guinevere. Less than two years ago, Gwen watched her mom labor just to walk. She could see that her mom was forced to take frequent sitting breaks when they went to the park. Now, Gwen watches her mom return from a run declaring that exercise is good, and sees her run laps around the kitchen.

“I never cued in on how much she was watching me,” Jennifer says. “Now I see.”

Guinevere will run the Kids Marathon this year. Jennifer’s sister, brother and his wife will run the half marathon with her.

All because Jennifer stood on a scale and asked her husband to tell her the truth.

“It’s amazing to see how one change can be such a catalyst,” she says. “I look at my family and think, ‘I’m doing it for them.’ I can take my daughter to the playground now and not have to sit down. When she says, ‘Come on, mommy, let’s play,’ I can.”

Chris Togneri

Chris Togneri is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.