A year ago, running in the 2013 Hannibal Cannibal was the furthest thing from Rhonda Michaels' mind. However, after undergoing a major transformation over the past six months, Michaels will be a part of today's field of runners in the annual event.
A combination of regular exercise at the YMCA of Hannibal and a 1,200-calorie a day diet since late January has seen Michaels shed almost 100 pounds. As of Friday, her weight loss amounted to 96 pounds.
"I want to lose 100 pounds and then I want to lose 25 more than that," said the 36-year-old, whose target weight is 175 pounds.
"She inspires a lot of people, me included," said Sonya Elliott, Michaels' sister. "She's about lost 100 pounds and has not stopped. She's not like, 'Oh, I can quit now because I'm smaller,' she keeps going."
"She's become very motivational," said Michaels' husband, Scott. "Her co-workers (at Beth-Haven Nursing Home) have gotten in behind her and have started working out because of seeing her and her transformation."
Michaels believes her major weight loss should send a simple message.
"If I can do it, anybody can do it," said Michaels, who was diagnosed with diabetes in December, but has now been cleared to stop taking her diabetes medication.
Not everyone who loses weight decides to take on the challenge of the Cannibal. The notion of participating in the annual road race was planted by members of her Y workout class - Body Pump.
"I started dropping the weight and as you're doing that you meet people and they said, 'Let's do the Cannibal,'" said Michaels. "Actually we started running the lighthouse steps. The more weight I lost, the more they encouraged me to do the Cannibal, so I started running the Cannibal (route)."
Michaels is a regular member of the Drew Crew, which trains together in preparation for the Cannibal.
"We meet at 4:30 on Sundays. We all take off together and they all wait for everybody to get back in before we leave, and everybody cheers everybody on to finish it," she said.
During her training sessions, Michaels' best time so far is 43:02. Her goal today is to finish below 45 minutes.
That is not Michaels' only goal.
"The only other goal I have is to not get sick because every single time I come down here to run it I get sick. It doesn't matter, all the way up Lover's Leap, I can get sick all the way up, but I don't quit and I keep going," she said.
Elliott, who was recruited by her sister to join her in the race, also has a goal.
Page 2 of 2 - "I'm going to whoop her (Michaels). She's going to be smelling my dogs," she laughed.
Heading into the race, Michaels is ready to run.
"I'm excited. I'm pumped up," she said.
Michaels appreciates the encouragement she has received in preparation for the race.
"When I started going to the Y you get such a support group from these people that go to Body Pump and Drew Crew. They don't let you quit. They keep motivating you to keep going," she said. "I get support from them at home. They don't let me quit. My co-workers, they don't let me quit. You've got to have the motivation, but you've got to have the support system, too."
Part of Michaels' motivation has come from total strangers.
"A group of us came down Saturday morning to run and there were so many people that you don't even know that would give you high fives and tell you to 'keep going' and 'you're almost there.' It just made me want to run faster. Maybe that's why I did the best time I've gotten," she said.
It won't be surprising if the Hannibal Cannibal's biggest "loser," winds up feeling like a winner today.