Valerie Castillo works on crunches under the guidance of Mah-Ann Mendoza at Mendoza’s gym in Keizer. Since January, Castillo has shed 55 pounds and started a Facebook page where she shares what she’s learned with others. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

For the past year-and-a-half Valerie Castillo has been carrying around a photo. It’s from the first time Castillo ever saw her father in a tuxedo and she desperately wanted the moment captured.

Castillo is in the photo as well, and though you can’t tell it from her smile, she isn’t happy about being in it because she’s 55 pounds heavier than she is today.

“I look at that picture and I don’t want to be in it. I didn’t want to look that way and I want to take another picture someday soon,” Castillo said.

After going through a rough patch last year, Castillo started reading some positive thinking books and they helped get her back on track. Even though her mind was on a better course, she still had difficulty looking in the mirror each day.

“I wasn’t happy with what I saw,” said Castillo, 39.

Diet pills and attempts to lose weight on her own weren’t reducing the problem and she decided to seek out Mah-Ann Mendoza, a personal trainer with a gym at 3824 River Road N. in Keizer.

“I actually had worked out with her before. I went and did her program and lost a bit of weight. A few years later, I had gained it all back plus some because I didn’t stick with it,” Castillo said.

In January 2012, Mendoza was hosting a 12-week best body competition and Castillo joined up. She immediately started reaping the benefit of setting goals that helped her stay focused, but the camaraderie she found among the other participants buoyed her spirits when things got tough.

“At first we would trash talk about how each of us was going to win and go to Cabo, but then it became something different–a competition with myself,” Castillo said.

When Mendoza suggested exercises Castillo felt might be beyond her abilities, she would attempt to back out of it. Gradually, however, her confidence surged.

“We’d run around the building and I never knew I could run,” Castillo said.

Because of 50-plus hour weeks in her job as a mail carrier, it left Castillo working out by herself on most days although she tried to attend at least two classes at the gym each week.

By the end of the 12-week competition, she’d shed 44 pounds and took second place out of 17 participants.

“A lot of people, especially women, are scared they are going to get buff, but my goal was only ever to get healthy,” Castillo said.

Friends and coworkers commented on her success and it’s given her more motivation to continue four months after the original competition ended. She also started a Facebook page, A Better Way to Get Healthy, where she shares her tips and inspirations.

Castillo also saw dividends in her approach to the the larger world, she used to shy away from her role in local financial planning group, but now finds the microphone much less intimidating.

She’s not yet to the point where she’s ready for another photo with her father, but she’s getting closer to it every day.

“I just want to take another picture with him so I look nice,” she said.