In 1969, Rita Morrow and five other women gathered in Morrow’s basement to figure out how they could support each other as they worked to lose weight.
Fifty years later, that same group is now a collection of 37 women who meet each Thursday morning in the Christian Reformed Church to support each other through their weight loss goals.
“It’s a matter of providing a safe place and an accountable place, and a support place,” Dawn Arnold, 76, explained.
Arnold is the leader of Agassiz’s Thursday morning TOPS group — an international organization aimed at helping others as they are Taking Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS).
(Agassiz also has an evening TOPS group, which has been going strong for 35 years.)
Arnold joined TOPS 10 years ago, after a trip to Europe resulted in a challenging return home.
“I got running all over Europe, up and down stairs and doing the real touristy thing. And my back went out,” she explained. “I came home in a wheelchair.”
For six months afterwards, Arnold went through physiotherapy to try and get herself back into shape. At the time, she weighed more than 200 pounds, and although she was active before her injury, the added weight wasn’t helping her recovery.
She saw an advertisement for TOPS, and decided to give it a try.
“I walked in there, and they were playing games. And I thought, ‘Oh, this is not my thing,’” she said. “And then I thought, ‘I don’t have a choice.’”
Now, nearly 10 years later, Arnold lost 35 pounds, maintained her goal weight for the last eight years and is still a member of the TOPS group.
The road to losing or maintaining weight for each member is different, Arnold explained, and the group provides awards and rewards for each person’s journey.
“Every year we get certificates and flowers and acknowledgement pins. Actually, I’ll show you the scarf I got,” she said, getting up from her kitchen table. “It might help you see. Because it’s nothing too dramatic, but you’d be surprised how competitive people can be.”
Arnold’s scarf is rather like a Girl Guide’s sash, covered in pins and memorabilia of her achievements: getting half way to her ideal weight, achieving it and maintaining it for the last eight years.
“Our meeting consists of a lot of rewards, and awards, and confirmation and a lot of laughter,” Arnold said. “We’ll call each other and go for walks. Or we’ll get gym passes and pass them around, that sort of thing. It makes it sort of like a real big family.”
That’s what has kept Arnold involved for so many years.
“I have such wonderful friends in that group now,” she said. “I was relatively new to town, and it really established something very substantial for me.”
Anyone wanting to join TOPS can contact Arnold at 604-796-0686.