The first year Debby Rose rode in the American Heart Association Beach Ride, she weighed 300 pounds and needed an extra-wide saddle.
That was 2009. At the event’s 40th anniversary in November, Debby’s saddle will be smaller; her weight right around 138.
“The Beach Ride has saved my life,” said Debby, who lost her mother to a heart attack in 2014 and whose husband and father both have diabetes. “It keeps me focused on staying healthy.”
This year, Debby is part of the 40 Something Cowgirls Team, which is well on the way to meeting its $25,000 goal.
“When I get a passion, I go all out,” said Debby, a Lifestyle Change award winner.
Before making the nine-hour drive from her home in West Virginia to her first Beach Ride in South Carolina, Debby had already begun losing weight. She had started learning about cardiovascular health, tracking her cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, trying to be more active. Being part of Beach Ride kicked that all into gear.
“That’s when I went in full-fledged,” Debby said. “I loved the Beach Ride and all it stood for. I loved the money raised; the technology it helps fund, whether you’re a newborn or not yet born or if you're 100. I met so many people I didn’t know were heart survivors until I opened my mouth and said I was raising money for the AHA.
“They’d kept it to themselves, and next thing I know they’re opening up their shirts and showing me their scars.”
When her mother died, Debby amped up her fundraising efforts. She called the Beach Ride organizers to see how much money she’d need to raise to be the No. 1 fundraiser: $7,000, she was told. Debby being Debby, she set her goal at $10,000.
“I literally went up and down streets, knocking on doors,” she said. “At that time, I was driving a school bus. A lot of people knew me because of that. Every out-of-town ballgame I drove through, I’d go through neighborhoods and knock on those doors.”
She raised $7,400, but another man raised more.
“He won a saddle, and he gave it to me, right in front of everybody, at the Beach Ride award ceremony,” she said. “Those people are just so giving.”
This, for the record, is spoken by the person who has adopted her two step-grandchildren, ages 5 and 8, the younger of whom has leukemia; whose husband, Joe, was diagnosed with breast cancer and almost died three times last year; who cares not only for her horse, a paint named Splash, but also for a rescue horse.
“God keeps me going,” said Debby, who also works full-time as a truck driver. “Things happen in life and you can be either negative or positive. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I talk to God and keep going with my exercises and helping at the Beach Ride and this or that.”
She doesn’t have much time these days for a set workout regimen but stays fit hoisting hay, cleaning the stable, lifting the saddle onto Splash’s back and riding (which has helped her core tremendously). She focuses on eating a lot of protein and vegetables and limiting carbohydrates.
Initially, her husband wasn’t on board with her health habits: He weighed 400 pounds when they met, and many of his meals consisted of sugary snacks and drinks. His cancer led to a 100-pound weight loss because he simply couldn’t eat; he now follows Debby’s way of eating – for himself and the children, so they can develop healthy habits as well.
“I feel awesome,” Debby said. “With the weight off, I have a lot more confidence riding. Knowing how much healthier I am now, I get to spread the word. I try to tell people everything I can that I’ve learned.”