By Roger McKinney
A former Joplin woman who topped out at 216 pounds after her father’s death is now one of five finalists in The Next Fitness Star competition, sponsored by Women’s Health Magazine.
Over four years, Tarrah Speer Lee changed her lifestyle and lost 92 pounds. She is now a fitness trainer and nutritionist.
Lee, who lives in Denver, grew up in Joplin. Her mother is Donna Speer Farley, and her late father, Don Speer, was a Joplin police officer for 16 years. Lee graduated from Joplin High School in 2000.
Lee said she had been overweight all her life because of unhealthy food in her household and lack of exercise. She said her dad before his death had undergone three heart bypass surgeries. He died at age 52 in October 2006. A heart attack after a car accident killed him, Lee said. She was 25 when her father died.
“The first few months after his death I was in depression and I ate more,” Lee said by phone. “When my weight reached 216, I said to myself ‘this is not what your dad would have wanted for you.’ I started living my life differently.”
She committed herself to eating healthy and exercise. She quit a career in corporate marketing and event planning to become certified as a fitness trainer and a nutritionist. It’s now a successful career for her. She has a show on a web-based radio station, milehiradio.com. It’s called “Denver Nutritionista.” It streams at 9 a.m. on Fridays.
She said it was one of her clients who told her about the Women’s Health competition.
“I told my story in the video and entered it,” Lee said.
She said she didn’t expect anything to happen, but two months later, she was informed that she was one of the five finalists. There had been more than 3,000 applicants.
Lee, now 31, said she thinks her struggle with weight gives her credibility with her clients that some other trainers might not have.
“I would say 95 percent of my clients who come to me say that is the reason they come to me,” Lee said. “Most of the trainers out there can’t relate to their clients physically and emotionally. My clients tell me ‘I trust you, because you’ve been through this.’”
She said it’s a benefit that she’s a nutritionist and a trainer.
“The food is 95 percent of the battle,” she said.
Lee said her mother, who now lives in Texas, was married to former Joplin-based FBI agent Ladell Farley. She said she also helped her mother to improve her health, primarily by eliminating processed or fried foods and limiting eating out at restaurants.
The winner of The Next Fitness Star competition will be the featured personality in the next Women’s Health DVD fitness series, and will receive other prizes and sponsorships.
People can vote for Lee online until Aug. 5 at thenextfitnessstar.com. One can cast a vote every day. All five finalists will be on the “Today” show on Aug. 14, when the winner will be announced.