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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - Race Of A Lifetime

Summer 2015

Race Of A Lifetime

By: Karen Tong
Date: August 3, 2015

Shedding lifelong weight struggle to become a marathon runner

Jessica Sharkey on a leg lift machine at the gym
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Exercise is an important part of both Sharkey’s marathon training and weight-loss success.

Looking back on her childhood in New Jersey, Jessica Sharkey remembers being overweight. She was otherwise healthy and enjoyed softball and other activities, but she often felt alone because of her struggle with weight. Her brother and twin sister had healthy weights, so Sharkey sometimes wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” Simple things in life were stressful at times. “Planning for vacations was full of anxiety because I’d worry about fitting into an airplane seatbelt or being judged at restaurants. I dreaded shopping for new clothes.”

Over the years, she used different programs to aid in her weight loss. None helped her achieve a permanent change. At age 30, Sharkey, a Joppa, Maryland, resident, made the decision to pursue bariatric surgery. “I did this for me,” she explains.

The Next Step

Sharkey found the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery. After attending an information session, she connected with surgeon Anne Lidor, M.D. Sharkey was an ideal candidate for bariatric surgery because she was more than 100 pounds overweight and had a body mass index (BMI) of 47 kg/m2 (BMI over 40 kg/m2 is considered morbid obesity). Dr. Lidor explains, “These factors could lead to severe health consequences down the road, so bariatric surgery is an appropriate weight-loss tool.”

Just before surgery, Sharkey weighed 273 pounds. Dr. Lidor performed a vertical sleeve gastrectomy procedure on Sharkey in February 2013. This procedure removes a large part of the stomach, causing a restriction in how much one can eat, and a possible decrease in appetite.

As part of her new lifestyle, Sharkey now relies much more on fresh food and is aware of the quality of food she eats. “I aim for small meals with high protein, and I avoid processed foods,” she says.

Working It Out

About five months after surgery, Sharkey began exercising with a trainer. About a year after surgery, she and her twin sister decided to run a half marathon together in Florida. Sharkey had such a good experience at the race that she knew she could take it farther. After a family friend, who was a U.S. Marine, passed away, Sharkey committed to running in the Marine Corps Marathon in his memory.

“Training was grueling,” says Sharkey. “Sometimes I had to get up at 4 a.m. so that I could fit in a 15- to 20-mile run. I worked out five times a week, and my body was sore.” In the end, it was well worth the effort. “The pain and time involved were temporary challenges. I was doing it for a bigger purpose, to honor my friend,” explains Sharkey. At the marathon, she weighed 175 pounds, having lost about 100 pounds in one year and nine months.

The Race Continues

“Surgery wasn’t the easy way out,” says Sharkey. “I think about food and exercise more now. Surgery was a gift to me, and I don’t take it for granted.” She is grateful to Dr. Lidor and her care team.

The admiration is mutual. Dr. Lidor says, “I’m so proud of Jessica and her commitment to her own health. Her motivation and dedication have proven to be essential parts of her weight-loss journey.” Sharkey continues to exercise, take vitamins and follow up at the Center for Bariatric Surgery each year. These steps also help Sharkey stay on track.

Sharkey is planning to run the Marine Corps Marathon again this fall. “It’s not about a number on a scale. I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I have that now, and there is more joy in everything I do,” she says.

For more information or to make an appointment at the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery, call 410-550-0409 or visit

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