BY BILL PHILLIPS
By her own admission, Diane Sim isn’t a healthy person.
She gets intravenous injections once a month to keep her iron and mineral levels up, otherwise she will get heart palpitations and become very, very sick. She is a reactive hypoglycemic which means sugar is, to her, is toxic. If she eats sugar, even from a piece of bread, her blood-sugar levels will spike and then crash.
One might think that someone with those kids of health issues wouldn’t be competing in an extremely physically demanding sport. But she is.
Her health issues didn’t stop the Vanderhoof woman, who weighed more than 400 pounds 20 years ago, from competing in last year’s Iron Ore Classic where she qualified for this year’s provincial body-building championship, the Pro-Am Expo, in Vancouver July 8-9.
“It has been an adventure,” she says of her path which is nothing short of amazing.
When she was in her early 20s, her weight had climbed up to 425 pounds. Like a lot of people, she tried all kinds of diets, supplements, and pills … none of which worked very well.
“The doctors told me my mountain was too big, that the only alternative was weight loss surgery,” she says. “I was pretty young at the time. The carrot was dangling there … be instantly skinny. I didn’t do my research. Didn’t really look into what life was going to be like on the other side.”
The surgery worked for a while. Doctors told her to expect about a 50 per cent weight loss. She lost about 200 pounds, so they were on the mark.
“Your mind doesn’t change,” she says.
“You can fix, and cut and change the anatomy of the body, but you can’t change the mind. So if my mind tells me when I’m sad I want a chocolate, it’s not going to stop saying that after the surgery.”
She moved on with her life, got married, had kids, continued to work collecting blood at the lab in the Vanderhoof hospital.
Her weight still wasn’t ideal and she was having some back problems.
“In 2009, one day, walking in the parking lot, the disc in my back exploded,” she says. “It left me completely crippled, I was paralyzed down one side and lost all kinds of bodily function ability. I was air-ambulanced to Vancouver.”
She had emergency surgery where she was told they could maybe save 20 per cent of the disc, otherwise would be bone-on-bone.
She was diagnosed with failed back surgery syndrome.
“I was told I would probably never get all of the feeling back and would never get off the all the narcotic pain medication and all of the things that go with back injuries,” she says. “They immediately dump you on anti-depressants and give you all the pain medication they can, because you are now chronically injured. It’s a hard label. They told me I’d be on disability and I’d never be able to go back to work … I had small children.”
She went home and lived her new reality of drugs and pain.
About a year later the scar tissue from her original weight loss surgery started to give way, tearing her stomach. She was rushed to Victoria where she underwent emergency surgery.
“When I woke up they had basically removed my stomach and 80 centimetres of my intestine. They sewed me back together and called it an extreme gastric bypass. That was the only remedy that they could come up with so I could have a digestive system.”
Following the surgery, she started to drop weight because her system couldn’t absorb a lot of the nutrients we get normally from eating.
“I went from over 200 pounds to about 116 pounds in six months,” she says. “I was a skeleton. I didn’t have any muscle. I was just weak. Every time I ate sugar I would crash and pass out. Just a mess.”
The doctors were thinking about putting feeding tubes in her.
“I was newly married and my husband is a chef and he fed me, and fed me, until I ballooned up to 197 pounds,” she says.
Every month or six weeks she would get a morphine injection, right into her spine, to help her deal with the pain. She would be on morphine for years.
“It was awful. They had to start putting me to sleep to do it because it was so painful.”
Then, more calamity. She blew her knee out and had to have surgery to repair the damage. That’s when things changed … for the better.
“When I was recovering from my knee surgery, I decided I’d had enough,” she says. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bend over, my back was bad. I had no strength in my core. I couldn’t do anything because they’d cut me wide open twice with breastbone to belly-button surgeries. I had no strength.
“I was just so sick of being chained to a bottle of pills. I thought this is no way to live. I’m sick, I’m broken, I’m injured, I’m on all kinds of pills. How is that life?”
Shortly after her knee surgery, she bought a gym membership and started going every day.
“Every day it seemed like it got a little bit easier, sometimes it wasn’t, sometimes it was,” she says. “It gave me the ‘I can do this.’ I chucked away all of the pain medication and they kept saying, ‘you’re going to be on it for life,’ and I would say, ‘no, I’m not.’”
She stopped taking the injections, easing herself off morphine, stopped seeing her doctor and just focused on working out.
As she strengthened her abdominal muscles, her back pain diminished.
“Increasing the strength, reduced the back pain, because when you have the muscles to hold your body up, your spine doesn’t have to do as much work,” she says. “So the pain wasn’t as bad. Now I can press 800 pounds and it doesn’t bother me at all. They told me I would never had abdominal muscles.”
Eventually she decided that she needed a goal to work towards and started training in mixed martial arts. Someone suggested that she come into Prince George and train in boxing. She loved the idea, but wasn’t strong enough.
It was about that time she met her trainer Carly Green and two of them came up with a plan on what goals to set.
Green asked if she would be interested in training for the 2016 Iron Ore Classic. Sim agreed, but told everyone she would train up to the day of the event, but bail when it came time to go up on the stage.
“I didn’t want to go up on stage because when you’ve been 425 pounds, there’s things you can’t tuck into a bikini,” she says with a laugh. “But I’m so competitive, once you’ve trained for something for 17 weeks, every single day, it’s hard to quit.”
She trained and got strong enough to go back to work. She competed at the Iron Ore Classic last fall and qualified for provincials, which are July 8-9 in Vancouver, where she will compete in figure. She’ll be back at the Iron Ore Classic this fall where she’ll compete in physique.
It’s been a long and difficult road for Sim, but she knows looking back isn’t an option.
“I can still be a mom, I’m not that sick mom,” she says. “I’m that mom where they say ‘have you seen my mom?’ That’s my why. You have to be sick before you know what healthy is. I appreciate every single day when I get up at 4 a.m. and go for a run, because I remember when I couldn’t put my socks on. It’s about that barrelling engine, going forward.”
And while those who hear her story are inspired by it, Sim doesn’t see it that way.
“For me, I’m just trying to outrun what I was. For me it’s not an amazing story. I don’t see this as a great inspiration, I don’t see effort. I just see that I can’t go back there. I can’t do that again. I can’t be broken. I can’t be all of those things. I can’t go back.”
She is getting some help to go to the provincials from John Brink, of John A. Brink Investments, who is helping sponsor her trip to Vancouver. Brink will also be competing and had a similar start to the world of body building.
“In July of 2008 I had a case of diverticulitis and and came within millimetres of dying,” he says. “Then I knew I had to do something serious.”
He started working out and last year also qualified for the provincials.
The Pro-Am Expo goes July 8-9 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.