As we celebrate the holidays, this week I want to celebrate Annie Whitlock, a Thrive Challenge winner and a committed member of our community. In 2019, Annie was feeling run down, anxious, and sad. In addition to her work at Walmart, she put her heart into caring for her husband, Kirk, and their three children, who all have genetic hearing loss. But she wasn’t taking care of herself. Annie started her Thrive Challenge journey together with Kirk, and over the past four years she has transformed her life, one Microstep at a time. I’m so excited to share her inspiring story.
I was adopted as a baby. And I had amazing parents. But growing up, I was on a mission to find my biological mother. When I was 21 and in college, I got an email from my mom, who had been trying to find me for a long time. We finally met and it was scary, but it felt very natural and today we have a good relationship. But I’ve had challenges because I found it hard to know where I fit in. And it affected every part of my life.
Now I’m 41 and married with a wonderful family, but back in 2019, I wasn’t feeling good.
I was always tired and didn’t have the energy for my husband, Kirk, and our three kids: Ethan, who’s now 14; Noah, who’s 11; and nine-year-old Alice. All our children have hearing loss and wear hearing aids. They have enlarged vestibular aqueducts, a genetic condition that Kirk has too. I was worried that I couldn’t get them the help they needed at school. And as a mom I was very overprotective. I’d get sad about the unknown, and what their lives would be like, because their condition is progressive.
I was taking care of everyone else, but not myself.
My blood pressure was high, and at work my knees and feet hurt so much I wasn’t sure I’d make it through each day. I weighed 304 pounds and ate whatever I wanted — a lot of fast food like McDonald’s — and we drank a lot of soda. Everything revolved around food, whether we were celebrating or whether we were feeling down.
One day, I picked up the Thrive Challenge book in the break room at work.
I took it home, read the inspiring stories, and messaged Kirk, who works overnight. I said, “We’re starting tomorrow!” Right away, we cut out soda and began drinking lots of water. We don’t eat after 6:30 pm, and we don’t snack at all. We have veggies with every meal, like broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans. One of our favorite dinners is steak and spinach salad, another is Polish sausage with veggies. And for treats we’ll have berries and cashew butter. For a holiday dessert, I’ll make cheesecake with a nut crust and no sugar.
We started to go for family walks and bike rides.
There’s a beautiful three-mile trail down to my mother-in-law’s house with rolling hills and farm fields. You can look over to the city of Lewiston on one side, and to the mountains on the other side. We have so much stamina, we don’t have to stop for rests anymore, we just enjoy being in nature and with each other.
Winning the Thrive Challenge in March 2019 was unbelievable.
I was in shock when I got the call! I was so proud of myself. For me, this is a whole lifestyle change; I’ve kept doing it and I won’t go back. My knees and feet no longer hurt and my blood pressure is back in the normal range. I get eight hours of sleep a night, I have energy for my kids, I’m happy, and my mind is clear and focused. I’ve lost 137 pounds in the last four years, but this journey is about what I’ve gained and how I’m living more intentionally.
I’ve been working on letting go of things I can’t control.
I used to think of the worst things that could happen. Like if we were out hiking, I’d picture the kids falling into the waterfall, but that’s all changed. I’ve let go of the fear by taking Microsteps and doing breathing exercises. The Thrive Resets help me stay calm, and I’ve made my own personal Resets with pictures of my family. I love photography. Taking pictures makes me happy — a pretty sunset, a cool-looking leaf, the river, my kids, and people at work.
Writing things down is magical for me.
I have journals all over the house and I’ll pick one up and start writing whenever I need to figure something out. I’ll write down what I want to remember or research, or how I’m feeling. I write affirmations like “I believe in myself.” And in the car on the way to school I’ll get the kids to repeat, “I’m going to have a good day.” By the time I drop them off, they give me a high five. It helps everyone stay positive.
My attitude has changed.
We were at Ethan’s hearing appointment one day and found out he’d gone from unilateral to bilateral hearing loss, which is more severe. I was holding back my tears, but Ethan was like, “Yes, yes, yes, now I can get another hearing aid and hear better.” It wasn’t a loss to him, it was a gain. So my own attitude adjusted. I realize that having hearing loss is just the kids’ normal and Kirk’s normal. They say I’m the “not normal one” because I can hear. Sometimes I have to put in ear plugs because our house gets so loud!
My self-confidence has skyrocketed.
I advocate for my kids with a clear head. I’m always researching how to help them and I won’t take no for an answer. Recently, someone in charge of making decisions for our district said “Are you always going to keep asking for more?” And I said, “Absolutely.” We don’t have an educational audiologist for the school yet, and we’ve been trying for 10 years. We’ve put in long hard hours to make it happen, and I’m not giving up.
I’m teaching the kids to stick up for themselves.
If they can’t hear something, I tell them to get the person to repeat it as many times as they need to until they get their answer. Because we’ve worked on their skills and confidence, I’m not as worried about them. I just want them to be good people who can advocate for themselves, doing whatever makes them happy.
There’s been a lot of healing for me.
I went on Ancestry, which led me to my biological father, and we met each other. I found out he had heart problems, and he passed away a few months later, but I am so grateful that before he died I got to spend time with him. He was a real neat person and it felt like closure, a part of my circle of life, a completion.
I have so much gratitude.
I’m connecting with both my families. We love spending time with my (adoptive) parents, and in September I went to visit my biological mom and grandma in Bellingham, Washington. I remember sitting on the plane looking out at the beautiful sunset as we were about to land. A relaxed feeling came over me and I knew I was where I was supposed to be — I felt free. I met my 90-year-old uncle and my half sister and I can’t put it into words how it felt, it was just very comfortable. I found out that my mom had put me up for adoption because she was in high school turning 18 when she got pregnant and was doing what she thought was best for me, and that she’d always loved me.
When other people feel good, I feel good.
Kirk and I volunteer for Second Harvest, a mobile food bank distributing free food. A truck comes into the Walmart parking lot, cars line up, and we put bags of groceries in their trunk. There are a lot of veterans coming through and I always smile and thank them for coming — I love those meaningful moments.
I love being able to help people take a deep dive into their own Thrive Challenge.
I encourage co-workers and peers to submit their stories. We have a Facebook group for our associates, a positive community to celebrate and support each other.
The Thrive Challenge has changed my life.
I realize I am more than a mom and a wife, I’m a person and I make time for myself now. I’m connecting with old friends, like my friend Holly. We grew up together and it’s been years since we’ve seen each other. I stopped by her house and we talked and talked and it was like no time had passed.
Right now, I’m enjoying the holidays with my family.
Our tree is up, we’re making advent calendars, and we’re watching Christmas movies like The Grinch. I asked Noah if he remembered what he got for Christmas last year. He mentioned a few toys, and then he said, “The most important thing I got was my Momma’s love.” This year Noah wants a Nintendo Switch. I don’t know if he’ll get it, but he’ll always have his Momma’s love! I am grateful that I’m raising amazing humans with big hearts, who can feel the love I give them.
— Annie Whitlock, Walmart Supercenter #2006; Clarkston, WA
You can now connect your wearable device in Thrive when you join the Thrive Challenge — and don’t forget to share your story. It’s your time to Thrive! Walmart and Sam’s Club Associates (plus friends, family, and customers) have free access to Thrive. Sign up here and submit your story for a chance to win part of a $1,000,000 prize pool.