“Don’t put food in your mouth, if you have food in your mouth” are words that Corliss Yamaki tries to live by.
For years Yamaki has struggled with the ups and downs of weight and with it the battles of good and bad health.
Yamaki was born and raised in Hilo and is a 1961 graduate of Hilo High School
“We just celebrated our 50th class reunion last October,” she said. “I’ll be turning 69 in July.”
In 1992 Yamaki noticed one of the warning signs of cancer and was given two biopsies before being diagnosed with bladder cancer.
“I was stunned because I didn’t fit the profile, which was white male, middle aged, overweight, heavy smoker and heavy drinker,” Yamaki said.
In fact, the only thing that matched Yamaki’s profile was being overweight.
At the time Yamaki was an English teacher and she waited until the end of the school year to schedule her surgery.
“My son was graduating that year from Waiakea High School so I waited until the end of June to go to Queens Hospital to have my surgery done,” she said.
Yamaki was one of the lucky ones as the post-op biopsies revealed no cancer cells anywhere in her lymphatic system.
“The doctor told me I was cured and I had no radiation, no chemo,” she said. “I just had to have scans and sonograms every six months for the next 5 years.”
Yamaki was back in school the fall of ’92 and took with her a ‘souvenir ostomy’ as a results of her ordeal.
“It’s almost like having a prosthesis and it takes adjustment, mainly in attitude,” Yamaki said of her ostomy.
As a result of being a diabetic Yamaki found herself with numerous side effects, mostly infections.
“I’m not on insulin, but being diabetic just complicates things,” Yamaki said.
Following her surgery Yamaki began to gain more weight as she didn’t want to strain her body, especially her mid section.
With the weight gain also came an increase in her medications, not only for the diabetes, but also for hypertension and cholesterol.
What changed everything for Yamaki were regular exercise and an awareness of what she consumed.
“I joined Curves and worked out three times a week,” she said. “In 2007 I joined Weight Watchers because HMSA offered a deal where it would pay for the initial fee and three sessions.”
Yamaki, with diet and exercise, began to see a change in her health and became encouraged in the progress she made.
“I found myself simply doing it and I was in control of how much and what went into my mouth,” she said. “I ate lots of vegetables and fruits that I liked and minimized the carbs and meats.”
It was during these transition days that Yamaki became extra motivated with the upcoming wedding of her son.
“I decided I didn’t want to wear a tent to my son’s wedding, so I worked harder at losing weight,” Yamaki said.
“It was during this time that I also resumed hula at the Kamana Senior program,” she said. “In all, I lost nearly 40 pounds.”
Yamaki is the first to admit that weight continues to be a struggle for her as she is on a ‘rollercoaster’ ride in the endless battle to stay healthy and fit.
“I wish I could say that I’ve reached my goal, but I still have another 30 pounds to go,” she said.
Yamaki has made other changes in her life, postponing hula while adding Golden Zumba to her weekly schedule.
“I work out less at Curves and have added Zumba twice a week which gives me a good workout each time,” Yamaki said.
Due to her bad knees she has decided not to run/jog, but has added walking to her routine.
“All in all I feel pretty good,” she said of her weekly exercise routine.
Yamaki has also learned quite a bit about eating.
“It’s all about portion control and making good choice,” she said. “Weight Watchers advocates no deprivation, just common sense. If you can, use chopsticks when eating as you tend to eat smaller bites and portions are slower.”
Yamaki has decided to take control of her health and in the process has lost 40 pounds which has made a difference in her life. She no longer needs many of the medications she was once on and has reduced the strength of other medications.
With age, other health issues have cropped up in her life and she is discovering that diet and exercise does make a difference in life.
“With age comes other health issues, so while my original medications have lessened or been discontinued, I’ve had others prescribed for different conditions,” Yamaki said.
Yamaki has made enormous strides in taking better care of herself, but none of this came overnight and she still has a way to go in accomplishing all her goals.
“If you don’t do what’s best for your body, you’re the one who comes up on the short end,” Julius Erving said.
And someday should you happen to see a tall, thin, nearly bald stranger jogger around the back streets of East Hawaii remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
Girls today have a lot to be thankful for in our Title IX program where they are not only encouraged to participate in sports, but are given an equal footing gaining recognition and scholarships.
Most mature women today will tell you that things were a lot different for them when they were growing up.
“When we were young, hardly any girls played sports,” Netlie Yokoyama said. “It wasn’t until I went to college that I got exposed to a variety of sports.”
Yokoyama was lucky because as an education major in college she was required to take four activity physical education courses as part of the curriculum.
“I took tennis, bowling, badminton and dancing, and I really loved it!” Yokoyama said.
Yokoyama went on to teach her first ten years at Hilo High, then twenty-four more years at Waiakea High School where she retired in 2002.
“I was a science teacher for more than half my career and spent the last 15 years as Waiakea’s Student Activities Coordinator, which I loved,” she said.
Along the way Yokoyama found time to raise two daughters, Jill and Kim, and a son, Don. “I would follow my three children along in their sporting activities, the girls in tennis and my son in baseball,” Yokoyama said.
“I had absolutely no time to exercise when working afternoons, weekends, just so busy. I started to play a little bit of tennis just as my last child was graduating from high school, but not much until I retired,” she said.
Now, six years after her retirement, this 62 year old has improved her lifestyle by maintaining a regular physical exercise routine coupled with improved eating habits.
“I get up early and walk for about an hour everyday as I look forward to it. I even walk when I travel,” she said. “I also play tennis two to three times per week, sometimes even four. Tennis is not only exercise but great fun and fellowship,” Yokoyama said.
Her tennis has evolved into playing in four different leagues throughout the year, adult women, mixed-doubles, seniors (over 50) and super seniors (over 60).
And for the past seven years Yokoyama has discovered the value of eating healthy along with a regular exercise routine.
“I’ve always battled with a weight problem, ever since I was young,” she said. “I tried many fad diets, but they never seemed to work. Somehow I knew that the fad diets wouldn’t work, as whatever I would lose I’d gain it back and more.”
Then Yokoyama listened to Oprah one day and began to take her advice. “It was something Oprah said on her show soon after I retired that really got me going in the right direction,” Yokoyama said.
“Oprah talked about how we owe it to ourselves to live a healthy life. She said that we are often so busy doing things for others that we don’t make time for ourselves,” Yokoyama said.
Oprah’s advice really hit home with Yokoyama as most of her life was spent dedicated to family and school.
“It wasn’t easy learning to do for myself, but I did. Now I eat healthy and exercise regularly and I’ve been doing it for about seven years, and it feels great,” she said.
Yokoyama has lost between 15 and 20 pounds since retirement and would still like to lose another 10 pounds, but says that isn’t as important to her anymore.
What Yokoyama has learned in the past several years is now transferring to her family as she has become an advocate for healthy living.
“My granddaughter, who is in kindergarten, has a teacher who teaches her about healthy living and I try to re-enforce it at home and help her to be active and select healthy snacks. She already swims, plays tennis, soccer and basketball and enjoys being active,” Yokoyama said.
Yokoyama is also hoping that part of her healthy lifestyle rubs off on her husband. “My husband plays tennis, which is great,” she said. “But I’d love for him to join me on my walks and especially eat healthier.”
Yokoyama believes that her exercise and eating habits has helped her maintain great blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and believes that her husband could reduce his need for medications if he would eat healthier and exercise more.
“I’d like to travel with him for many years to come, and I know we’ll be able to continue only if we remain healthy,” she said. “I will continue to get up and walk everyday and play tennis as long as my body will allow me to, and I will eat healthy by eating cooked oats for breakfast, whole wheat bread, brown rice, lots of vegetables and healthy snacks.”
Netlie Yokoyama is well on her way to taking good care of her body through regular exercise and a diet rich in healthy foods.
“Life is precious! I do what I enjoy and it makes me happy with my family and dear friends.” she said.