It all started with a handshake in the kitchen when she was 16 years old.
Shannon Blackmore, a third-year communications and public policy major at St. Thomas University, made a promise to her mother, and to herself, to start living healthier.
Now, she is approximately 183 pounds lighter and the happiest she’s ever been.
“I knew what I wanted to do, I didn’t have a specific goal that I wanted to meet. I just wanted to be healthier, I just wanted to be happier, so I chased that … and it worked.”
From a young age, Blackmore was bullied for her appearance while living in Port Hardy, British Columbia. She says she’s always been tall and broad, but it was being overweight that made her a target.
“I feel body image issues [are] something everybody experiences, but when you’re overweight, it’s just heightened … You literally feel like the elephant in the room.”
The bullying became so severe that her family moved to New Brunswick when she was in Grade Five. The mean comments decreased, but they still crept their way in from time to time.
Blackmore’s journey as she knows it now began in Grade 10.
Her mother suggested they both join a Biggest Loser challenge, but she was hesitant. However, she later broke down and realized it was time to make a change.
“One day I was down in my room, and I was like, ‘Okay, enough is enough. I hate my body. I need to do something because I’m not happy with myself and I need to be healthier.’”
Since then, she says her mother has been right by her side throughout their lifestyle change.
The first step was managing her diet. She swapped junk food and sugar for fruits, vegetables and protein.
“The first two weeks of completely cutting [out] sugar, it was like withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict,” she says.
Blackmore was stuck in bed sweating and weak for two days. She was unable to go to school or do much of anything due to her body’s reaction to cutting out certain foods.
After two months, she had lost 85 pounds simply fueling her body with the right food.
Turning the page
Since coming to STU, Blackmore started to explore fitness by going to the gym. She launched a YouTube channel and an Instagram account @shanb.fit last year to share the ups and downs of her physical and mental health.
Her Instagram account caught the attention of Kast Canada and Paragon Fitwear, fitness clothing companies, who reached out to sponsor her.
Through hard work and determination, she went through significant weight loss, specifically during the summer before her second year at STU.
Despite this incredible feat, her self-confidence struggled due to the excess skin that remained on her abdomen. An abdominoplasty would be the solution for her, but the price tag was hefty – between $8,000 to $12,000.
After expressing interest in getting an abdominoplasty to her mom, she was assured that one way or another she would receive the surgery. Blackmore discussed the possibility of going under the knife with her doctor and was told she had a good chance of qualifying for the surgery.
She was also told that Medicare would cover some of it, taking away the stress of expenses. However, at her first referral, she was laughed at and told that there was no way around digging into her own pocket to cover the procedure.
But that all changed when she was referred to Dr. James O’Brien.
O’Brien sent Medicare a letter, along with photos of Blackmore’s abdomen. The next day, she found out she had been approved for the surgery and it would be entirely covered, something her doctor had never witnessed in his 18 years of practice.
Blackmore made her appointment at the beginning of the summer. On Sept. 6, she underwent the abdominoplasty surgery and had eight to 10 pounds of excess skin removed.
The next chapter
It has been over two weeks since the surgery and Blackmore says she’s noticed drastic changes, physically and mentally.
Physically, her clothes fit differently.
“I used to be very self-conscious of any article of clothing that I wore … [But now] I’ve seen improvements in wearing leggings. It’s crazy because I used to hate wearing them without something longer cut on me.”
Mentally, she’s become happy with who she sees in the mirror.
“I’ve sat down multiple times and just cried, because I was really happy. It’s the first time it’s happened in my life, and I’m 20 years old.”
The average recovery time is between six to 10 weeks, but Blackmore believes it will only take her the minimum to get back into her fitness routine and have full range of motion.
Since the surgery, Blackmore says her outlook on life has changed.
She had “a huge career epiphany.” At the end of this year, she will be travelling to Toronto to become a certified weight-loss and healthy-living coach. This includes creating meal plans and providing others with the tools and motivation to push forward, just like she needed.
“I want to share [my] experience with other people and help enrich their lives and make it worth living.”
Combating body issues at STU is a priority for Blackmore. Whether it’s through forming a group or having wellness classes discuss this issue, she wants to make a difference.
“I really want to spread the self-love because it’s something that not a lot of people have.”
Rathering than trying not to dwell on the past, Blackmore’s chose to avoid dwelling on the present.
“Don’t dwell on what’s happening now. Always reflect on your journey and know where you started.”