City2Surf finally possible for principal after losing 99kg

Donna Bilas before surgery, and with her rain jacket, one of the few clothing items she has kept...
Donna Bilas before surgery, and with her rain jacket, one of the few clothing items she has kept to illustrate her pre-surgery weight. PHOTO: CHRIS BARCLAY
While new entrants hurtling about a playground for the first time might not grasp the importance of walking before you can run until they tumble, the concept has already been embraced by Donna Bilas.

The principal of Addington Te Kura Taumatua doesn’t move briskly around the grounds, her awkward gait a consequence of two knee replacement operations last year.

Yet the 51-year-old has still made massive strides in a figurative sense by reducing her weight by a staggering 99kg.

That downsizing means she enters the Les Mills City2Surf for the first time on March 17, a pledge she made during a school assembly last June.

Bilas spent the holidays walking every second day around the central city or Hagley Park. The routine continues before school, and at weekends.

She is no stranger to exercise, owning a gym membership for a decade. 

There was no weight reduction, although the toil wasn’t disheartening.

“I didn’t do it to lose weight, I did it to maintain movement and flexibility,” she explained.

Addington Te Kura Taumatua principal Donna Bilas plans to walk the Les Mills City2Surf fun run...
Addington Te Kura Taumatua principal Donna Bilas plans to walk the Les Mills City2Surf fun run for the first time this year. PHOTO: CHRIS BARCLAY
Her weight loss strategy focused on a range of unsuccessful diets and regimes. 

It was during Covid in 2021 when Bilas finally chose drastic action, so she contacted the Christchurch Weight Loss Clinic when restrictions eased.

“Covid probably taught us a bit more about looking after ourselves. It was a time to reflect,” she said.

So Bilas took out a bank loan for a $36,000 gastric bypass because she did not meet the criteria for an operation through the public health system.

Despite being clinically obese, Bilas had no life-threatening underlying health issues, leaving her in a global minority.

A 2019 study by McGill University in Montreal estimated 15 per cent, or slightly more than 500,000 Canadians were categorised as obese but still metabolically healthy.

“I had sore joints (her knees) but no diabetes, asthma, heart disease or high cholesterol, I was just a person in a bigger body,” Bilas said.

She keeps her pre-surgery and current weight private, but is candid about the cause of her size issues since childhood in the Hawke’s Bay: Genetics.

“My family were just bigger people. It’s just the way I was. I was never lazy and I ate healthy.

“When you see people the size I was on TV programmes like The Big Ward, eating three loaves of bread and a roast chicken for lunch . . . I never ate big portions or binge ate.”

Bubbly by nature, there was cause for serious contemplation after Bilas was discharged from hospital in April, 2021.

“When I lost weight I realised I needed to up my KiwiSaver because I actually might need it. There were times when I thought I might not get old,” she said.

If asked, Bilas points out conventional dieting did not cause her transformation.

“I don’t expect anyone to think I’d done this by dieting because it creates a huge expectation on people  who might think: ‘I’ve got to diet’.”

Bilas has her own measured expectations when she sets off from Latimer Square at 9am: Completing the 12km route at Rawhiti Domain before organisers hand out prizes and pack up.

Asked if one year she might attempt to run the iconic event, Bilas wasn’t getting ahead of herself.

“Three years ago I’d have never imagined walking it, never mind running it.”