When Shelley Leone started running, she found a way to maintain her sobriety — and change her unhealthy relationship with food.
“I was so disappointed in myself for even getting involved in drugs … once you’re hooked on it … you just think that it’s acceptable,” Leone, 45, tells PEOPLE in an interview about her decade-long addiction to cocaine that started in her early 20s.
The home-lending advisor is currently training for the SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon on April 15 in New York City, but explains it’s been a long journey to get to this point.
When Leone was a 23-year-old college student, she discovered that cocaine could help her ease feelings of low self-esteem. “I thought I wasn’t good enough to achieve certain things in my life,” she says. “I was exposed to cocaine and I passed it up a couple of times, [but] after a night of drinking out with friends I decided to try it because I didn’t like the way I felt.”
Leone explains that her childhood was partly to blame for her lack of confidence. After her parents divorced when she was 11 years old, she was sent away to live with relatives. “It was a very loving Italian household. My grandparents had taken me in, but my aunt also lived there and interfered,” she says, “There was a lot of mental abuse … that was detrimental in my childhood that caused me to drink … it just kept on being a vicious cycle for many, many years.”
For Leone, her lowest point was when she lost her job, her apartment, and had to live with her father. Last year in an interview on Megyn Kelly TODAY, she explained that she also got two DUIs — one of which caused an accident. Thankfully, no one was injured.
“Rock bottom for me [was] feeling like I was homeless living with my dad,” she says, “that’s when I started to put my life together … I went to meetings, I went to rehab, [and] did the work necessary.” But once she got sober, she used food as a source of comfort and reached her highest weight of 190 lbs.
“The poor diet combined with obesity caused me to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, insomnia, and anxiety,” Leone told Shape.
But in 2013 she discovered running and completed her first half-marathon. The training helped her to stay sober and lose 70 lbs. “To me, moving is medicine,” she says.
Over the course of three years, Leone lost 70 lbs. She continues to run four times a week and train for marathons. Leone explains she’s also mindful of her portion sizes.
“[Running has] added more self confidence and balance to my life,” she says. “It has given me more of a sense of accomplishment each day, and it just makes life more meaningful.”
Leone’s next goal: motivational speaking and volunteering.
“I want to help people find some kind of activity that they love. That’s what I’m going to start doing with the Driven foundation in Columbus; I’m getting kids running,” she says. “These kids need to see more everyday people like themselves being a positive influence… I’m just an ordinary person trying to extraordinary things.”