When Sarah was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after losing her husband to heart complications from the same condition, she vowed to fight back.

Although many people travel for rest and relaxation, Sarah Bryant prefers a bit more adventure.

During a recent visit to Arizona, she ran a 5K obstacle course, which required her to climb over a wall just to get to the starting line. And while vacationing in Bali, she hiked up the side of a volcano. Both were experiences the Sarah from six years ago wouldn’t have imagined possible.

The excursions were organized by a widow’s group Sarah joined after her husband’s death in 2014.

“It’s helped me to be with people who totally understand what I’m going through,” she said.

Sarah had only been married three years when her husband had a stroke and became wheelchair bound—a result of his uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. He ultimately passed from heart issues, which is the leading cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes.

Since her mother and brother also had type 2 diabetes, Sarah was intimately familiar with the disease when she was diagnosed in 2019, after suffering severe fatigue that no amount of sleep would alleviate. While the news was like a punch in the gut, she quickly rebounded.

“I knew I was going to beat this,’” she said. “It was time to take action.”

Vowing to change her lifestyle before turning to medication, Sarah enrolled in a diabetes education class, but quickly determined the coordinator’s recommendations didn’t go far enough for her. Sarah did her own research and put together a plan.

After trying a low-carb keto diet, she adopted a whole-food, plant-based, no-oil way of eating that avoids processed foods. She experiments with whole grains like farro and protein-rich legumes, such as mung beans. In place of white sugar, she makes her own date paste from scratch.

“She’s a walking billboard of what you can do if you put your mind to it,” co-worker and close friend, Janell Bannister, said. “She shares her knowledge, and I love that about her.”

Exercise also plays a key role. Sarah had already begun strength training with a group, and she became even more focused after her type 2 diabetes diagnosis, walking two to three miles on her non-gym days and boxing on a heavy bag. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, she hops on her treadmill, which has several different programs to keep things interesting. And she jumps on a mini trampoline every morning.

“It gets everything moving and helps you start the day,” she said. “I created a lifestyle for myself that I really enjoy.”

The changes paid off. In the past, Sarah struggled with her weight, gaining and losing the same ten pounds in a seemingly never-ending cycle. Since changing her lifestyle, however, she has lost and kept off 50 pounds in less than a year. As a result, she’s the smallest she’s ever been—and she feels better than ever, too.

Sarah’s blood glucose improved almost immediately, eliminating the need for medication. And her acid reflux, which caused a severe burning sensation in her chest and throat cleared up.

“I feel good when I wake up in the mornings, I don’t get fatigued throughout the day and I seem to have a lot more energy,” she said. “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t feeling great until I started feeling great.”

According to Sarah, her biggest teacher has been her late husband, Joseph, a stark example of what can happen when people don’t take diabetes seriously. Taking care of him, she said, was hard, and she doesn’t want her family and friends to ever be burdened with caring for her.

Those long days working full-time, commuting an hour and a half each way, and caring for her husband were the hardest days of her life, she says. To motivate herself then and now, she references her favorite quote: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

As for her health progress, Sarah says she’s amazed at herself and proud for sticking with it.

“Diet and exercise are the greatest weapons you have to fight diabetes and there’s a whole arsenal out there.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic quashed Sarah’s plans to visit South Africa this year, she’s making plans to visit Senegal, Africa in 2021.

“We have a habit of putting limits on ourselves,” she said. “We need to push beyond them.”