Five and a half years ago, Tacoma teacher Wendy McConkey weighed nearly 450 pounds. She felt tired, had aches and pains and could barely even move.

“Everything was just getting harder and harder,” she said.

“I hate to say it, but I was going to be one of those people you hear about on the news, that had to be cut out of their house kind of a thing,” she said. “I absolutely ... uhm, that's not who I am.”

She knew something had to change. But unlike a lot of people, instead of just thinking about it, she actually made a change and stuck with it -- and she lost 302 pounds via the old-fashioned way of diet and exercise.

These days, the only thing she’s gaining is national attention.

“It's like it's not my life,” she exclaimed, laughing.

Her dramatic weight loss got her invitations to appear on “Oprah” and the “Today” show and, most recently, her pictures and story were told in People magazine.

“It's pretty cool. I've been getting emails saying I saw you in People magazine, so it’s like, whoa!" she said, laughing.

A photo of McConkey in 2005 shows her at nearly 450 pounds. 

“When I look back at those pictures,” she said, “it's hard for me to believe, just because of the way my life is now ... but that's the way it was."

She said she first joined Weight Watchers and made the decision to alter her life forever. She started out walking a little bit every day, then walking a little farther when she could. And when she was able, she began more strenuous exercise.

And despite her dramatic physical change, those who know her best say she's still the same.

“I never even looked at what her weight was,” said a former student identified only as Tameeka. “I thought she was a fabulous teacher and she was fun and great.”

McConkey said what she's lost in pounds is nothing compared to what she's gained in life.

She has ample energy these days to keep up with the kindergartners at Tacoma's DeLong Elementary School, where McConkey works.  She not only teaches her students to be fit and healthy, but she teaches Zumba dancing exercise classes three days a week.

What would she advise other people who want to change their lives?

“If there's something that they (people) really want, it's possible; you just have to work hard for it. And it's so worth it in the end,” she said, smiling.

Her next goal? To keep the weight off, she said.