Fast food addiction. Binge eating. Smoking. Multiple Sclerosis. Cystic Fibrosis. Cancer. Obesity. Postpartum depression. Pain killers. Medication. Surgery. Death of loved one. Our local community members fought these battles last year to become fitness inspiration stories of 2014. The annual Fitness Inspired Gala, hosted by Bay Athletic Club, had the makings of a Hollywood movie, but the stories were not fabricated, glossed over or fancied up. The stories, shared in front of 160 people at the Art in the Loft, were real life struggle and success.

Hearing stories of transformation reminds us that change is possible. For example, Larry Patterson kicked his smoking habit after 33 years by taking up fitness and running. At the age of 54, Mary DeCaire started exercising and cleaned up her meals. She lost 30 pounds, cut back on blood pressure medication and reduced her cholesterol. Larry and Mary have altered their future, their health and their ability to enjoy life with grandkids. They will avoid future medical expenses associated with smoking, high blood pressure and sedentary living.

Some stories resonated deep in our hearts long after the event ended. Emily Roussin shared her story of being diagnosed with MS at the age of 21. She felt alone and sad, spending years battling depression and was scared to move her body. She turned to food for comfort and sat in local bars to get away from the reality of her diagnosis. Eating fast food was a daily habit, sometimes returning within minutes to order another meal.

She continued to struggle off and on for a decade. At 298 pounds, she was miserable. At 31-years-old, she weighed more than when she had been pregnant with her twin boys.

Emily’s turning point was realizing she was how dangerously close she was to 300 lbs. She vowed to become the healthiest she had ever been. She cleaned up her nutrition by cooking meals at home, packing lunches for work and started eating breakfast.

Emily also committed to exercising at least 30 minutes a day. As a working mother of 3-year-old twins, she does not have a lot of free time, but 6 a.m. classes fit her schedule. It was not easy to get up, but the results were worth it.

Over eight months, Emily lost 70 pounds. She is ecstatic and so is her doctor, who noticed major improvements with her strength, coordination and balance at her last MS checkup.

Emily took her life back with fitness and nutrition. MS and depression do not cripple her anymore, she has will to fight.

We also heard from a young man who was hiding from the world. When he was only 18-years-old Dylan Weir weighed more than 300 pounds. He remembers struggling with his weight as early as fourth grade. His days were filled with fast food, soda and excessive sleeping. He would not leave the house.

A year ago, he realized his life was going nowhere. He could not ignore it. He needed to change. He started working out with friends. His workout buddies fueled his motivation.

Dylan overhauled his nutrition. He still has fast food occasionally, but the majority of his meals are cooked at home. He also stopped skipping breakfast.

Dylan is a new person inside and out. He is nearly 80 pounds lighter and has the energy and drive every young man should have. He no longer hides in baggy clothes. He has confidence and walks with his head high. Dylan has a brighter future because he decided to believe in his ability to change.

When Donnie McCrum, 61, took the stage to tell her story, she looked radiant through her tears of joy. She told the audience that she thought was going to spend the rest of her life as “another fat woman.” Those are her words. She hated feeling that people were looking at her differently because of her size.

At just 5 foot 2 inches, Donnie weighed 205 pounds and was at risk for heart disease. She struggled to lose the weight, having tried and failed over again.

In addition to exercising, she sought out nutrition coaching and learned to eat slower and choose the right portions. Donnie saw results instantly. In less than six months, she lost 25 pounds and two dress sizes. She is the smallest she has been in 15 years and cannot believe she is now participating in boot camp programs to stay motivated.

The top inspiration story of the year was awarded, by audience vote, to college athlete Emma Strong. Emma bravely shared her struggles of disordered eating and exercise addiction in high school. She endured hair loss, lack of menstrual cycles and self-harm.

The pain, the sadness and the darkness of her world was hard to imagine. Emma fought back by joining the health club and finding the support she needed from friends, her loving family and trainers to embrace fitness as strength and food as fuel. She let go of her pain and stopped punishing her body. She embraced her life and her future.

Emma shared how the scale no longer controls her and she is thriving as an athlete. After she shared her story from darkness into light, Emma lit up the room with her smile and sang the song, “Brave.” That word perfectly sums up what it takes to reclaim your health and your life.