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PAXTON — Nicole O'Dell did incline walking push-ups on bleachers outside Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School as her 7-year-old triplets did regular push-ups beside her.

Then they ran up and down the bleacher stairs several times before one of her triplets asked "Mom, can we run around the track?"

"That is the greatest reward of all this," O'Dell, 43, said of her embracing a healthier lifestyle.

"Natalie (O'Dell's 18-year-old daughter) had health issues but she saw how my choices were benefiting me" so she improved her nutrition and exercise and lost weight, O'Dell said.

"Now, I'm seeing these guys get off to a good start," she said of triplets Logan, Megan and Ryleigh. Then they scampered down the bleachers and ran around the track.

In the past year since O'Dell began her healthier eating and exercise, she has lost 106 pounds. She weighed 150 pounds as she ran around the track with her children late afternoon on Aug. 3.

A Paxton mother of six children — ages 24, 18, 15 and the 7-year-old triplets — O'Dell is training for two triathlons during the next month as she works full time as marketing manager at Human Kinetics, a Champaign-based publisher of books for the fitness industry and as she continues her graduate studies.

"I'm 10 weeks from finishing my master's degree in English from Southern New Hampshire University," she said.

She maintains a website — — to hold herself accountable to her fitness goals while helping other busy parents to reach their goals through her posting of stories, recipes and tips.

"I'm honest about my struggles," she said.

Writing is not new to her. She has written 27 books — some Christian young adult fiction books and some nonfiction resources for parents.

"I think she's amazing. She's super mom," daughter Emily, 15, said between color guard practice and play rehearsal. "I have no clue how she does it."

'It's incredible," Natalie said before she ran off to work.

Natalie will be a freshman at Illinois State University in Normal later this month. Oldest child Erik is serving overseas in the Air Force.

"It's good," Megan said of her mom's exercise. "I like that she gets more skinnier every time she exercises."

"It's really good because when you exercise your blood pumps," said Logan.

"It makes you healthy," said Ryleigh.

All three children love to exercise with their mom, including in a July 5K race in Paxton.

"I feel really healthy and sweaty," Ryleigh said after exercising on Aug. 3.

All this is paramount to O'Dell, who said fitness is her third life priority. Her first are faith and family.

"My faith is a big part of this," she said. "God made a day 24 hours long and, if you can't get everything you need to get done in a day, maybe you're doing something you're not supposed to be doing."

"I was busy before I started doing this" nutrition and exercise program, she said. "It's just a shift in priorities."

"I used to think that it would be selfish to carve time out for exercise," she said. "Now I think it would be selfish for me to stop."

That's because her healthy eating and exercise give her energy, peace of mind and personal pride that help her as a mother, employee, graduate student, person of faith and friend.

She is helping to organize a walking group through her church and invites friends to join her in exercise.

"I used to do social time, getting together with friends for coffee," she said. "Now, my exercise time is my social time. If friends want to get together, I invite them to jump on board."

O'Dell already was busy as a mother, employee, writer and student a year ago when she decided that she needed to do something about her weight and sluggishness. She weighed 256 pounds and felt drained.

"I knew that I was letting myself suffer physically," she said. While she exercised from time to time, she'd stop when she didn't achieve desired results or when she became injured.

"The missing component was diet," O'Dell said. She bought and ate a lot of convenience foods.

"I thought, 'The best thing I can give my kids is a healthy mom.' I realized that I'm not too busy to take time to exercise."

O'Dell knew she was allergic and sensitive to many foods but she would eat them anyway, sometimes resulting in hives, stomach distress, burning throat, inflammation and weight gain.

Beginning a year ago and over time, she determined those foods (including wheat, eggs, corn, nuts, seeds, fish and sugar) and gradually eliminated them from her diet.

She replaced them with Greek yogurt, fruit, mixed greens, vegetables and lean meats.

"I don't feel deprived," she said. "What helps me is to plan (meals) ahead."

Healthy eating was quickly accompanied by exercise. O'Dell started by doing cardio work at a 24-hour fitness center in Paxton and at work.

"We're lucky to have a fitness facility at work and I took advantage of it," she said. Gradually, she ramped up her cardio workouts and added push-ups.

In January, Natalie was motivated by her mother's success to begin her own healthy eating and exercise routine.

"I had unattended food allergies and once I got gluten and sugar out of my diet, everything else fell into place," she said. Soon, she added cardio work and weight lifting at night after work.

Natalie felt better, her school work improved, her skin cleared up and she lost 45 pounds.

"Now, it's routine," Natalie said of the family's healthier lifestyle.

O'Dell and her friend, Stacy Morse, decided to begin training for a triathlon.

During most weeks, O'Dell exercises six days a week, generally beginning at 5 a.m. — before her children are awake — to minimize the impact on her family.

Her Monday workout consists of running, push-ups, planks, triceps dips and burpees at the school track. During the other five days, she fits in two runs, two bike rides and two swimming workouts at the Urbana Aquatics Center. Distances vary.

In the spring, she competed in a Naperville sprint triathlon and swam a half mile, biked 13.1 miles and ran 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in 1 hour and 53 minutes.

"It was awesome," she said of her feelings afterward. "It was quite an emotional moment."

Now, she and Morse are training for a sprint triathlon in Chicago on Aug. 28 and an Olympic-distance triathlon in Litchfield on Sept. 11. The Olympic distance is a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 10-kilometer run.

O'Dell admitted what she's doing isn't easy so she tries not to get anxious about it.

"The biggest thing for me is focusing on making the next right choice," she said.

But she enjoys what she's doing.

"I get invigorated. It's a huge reward to see how much all of this has change my life."

Her next fitness goal may be a half Ironman — 1.5 mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run — in a year.

Meanwhile, she wants to continue to grow as a mother and writer.

"The message of my story is you can be fit in a busy life," O'Dell said. "Make good choices and put one foot in front of the other. Your body and mind will follow."

Emily agreed.

"You can do anything you set your heart to."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


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