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Normally, I would have posted this on Grace’s Facebook page, but, alas, I gave up Facebook for Lent. So, if I am lucky, Grace will see this when the notification comes up that it is published on my FB page.

Grace was one of five people selected to be leaders on the Irish television show, Operation Transformation. The program follows the five leaders for seven weeks documenting their diet and fitness successes and shortcomings. You are encouraged to follow one of the leaders as an inspiration for your own transformation. I chose to follow Grace, the 32 year-old postmistress from Castletownroche in County Cork. Part of the reason I followed Grace is that when she started the program, she discovered that they not only expected her to change her diet and exercise levels, but they also expected her to quit smoking. I quit smoking many, many years ago and know how hard that is to do. I still some times get a whiff of cigarette smoke when I pass someone smoking on the street and think, “oh, I wouldn’t mind some of that.”

So I followed Grace’s progress each week by watching the program on the RTE 1 Player, because it is the only way I have of watching Irish television programs in Texas. (Why I am obsessed with Irish television is the subject for another day.) What I loved about this program is that they follow the leaders in their lives each week. Unlike the American program, The Biggest Loser, these leaders undergo their transformation at home. And no one gets voted off or plots how to get rid of other contestants, nor is there the any money to be won at the end of the program. They are there as leaders to those who watch the program and then will hopefully follow the program themselves. There is a web site where you can get the daily workout and weekly diet plan for the leaders. And, of course, the requisite phone app as well.

There are no fancy machines or daily appointments with personal trainers. There is a fitness expert, and nutritional expert, and a psychologist who set the weekly goals and give them encouragement each week. The majority of the time it is up to the leaders to follow the program as they live their everyday lives. In Grace’s case, she moans about giving up the cigarettes. She also has her partner and son supporting her efforts. What  I enjoyed most was seeing the support she got from her Father, who ended up losing quite a bit of weight himself.

One of the things I have come to love about Ireland is the community spirit. It is a country of a few big cities and many rural communities, villages and small towns. The population of the whole country is about 25% less than the population of the city I live in. In Operation Transformation, I saw Grace and the other leaders supported wholeheartedly by the communities where they live. Friends, coworkers, and neighbors accompanied them on their daily walks and cheered them on.

i sent Grace a ‘friend request’ on Facebook because I wanted to be able to offer my support. As I live 4500 miles or so away, it was certainly the easiest way. Every Wednesday, I watched how Grace and the other leaders had fared in the previous week. They work out at home, sometimes using bottles of water or canned goods as weights. They struggle to adapt to their new diets and lifestyle changes. Last Wednesday was the finale. The leaders, who at the start of the program had not been able to run further than 200 meters, run in a 5k race in the rather appropriately named, Phoenix Park. And then we see them strut their transformed selves down a catwalk. Grace looked stunning in an electric blue dress. Not only had she lost weight, her skin glowed and she looked radiantly happy.

After everyone had walked the catwalk and watched a video review of their transformation, they were joined by two members of the Irish Defense forces. Each week the leaders had met with Sergeant Mick Mulcahy and Lieutenant Gemma Fagan for weekly army-style team challenges aimed at pushing them further than they felt they could possibly go. They were there to present Grace with the “Laoch na Sraithe” – Hero of the Series Award for her spirit and inspiration to others.

Before the series finale, Grace was invited to launch a new quit smoking campaign by the Irish Cancer Society. It is a campaign aimed at getting young women to quit smoking. I would guess that Grace’s life has been transformed far more then she might have dreamt it would be when she embarked on this journey.

So, well done to you, Grace Batterberry. I will miss seeing you on Wednesday but will think about you when I take my dog for a long walk in my neighborhood each day—something watching Operation Transformation inspired me to do. I can’t wait to check on your Facebook page Easter Sunday to see what you have been up to!

A few of the episodes are still available to watch on RTE. If you would like to check them out, go to http://www.rte.ie/player/. You can also access the Operation Transformation website from there.