Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Planting 'something new' in Mississippi

Click to play
Helping her hometown slim down
  • Linda Fondren started Shape Up Vicksburg to help her hometown lose weight
  • On being selected as a Top 10 CNN Hero: "I was overjoyed"
  • Fondren calls the selection "a gift" that she can use to help others who are struggling
  • Obesity
  • Weight Loss
  • Mississippi

Editor's note: CNN Heroes received more than 10,000 nominations from 100 countries, and a Blue Ribbon Panel selected the Top 10 CNN Heroes for the year. Voting for the CNN Hero of the Year continues through November 18 (6 a.m. ET) at The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs Thanksgiving night, November 25, at 8 ET.

(CNN) -- With her weight-loss challenge, Shape Up Vicksburg, Linda Fondren is helping her Mississippi hometown banish the bulge.

Through the group's free fitness activities and nutrition classes, Vicksburg residents have lost nearly 15,000 pounds to date.

Below are Fondren's thoughts on being chosen as a Top 10 CNN Hero for 2010.

Q: Where were you when you got the call that you'd been selected as a Top 10 CNN Hero?

Linda Fondren: I had gathered my assistant together in my office [at my gym] to discuss the details of Shape Up Vicksburg -- Get Healthy Walk. ... When I answered the phone and heard, "This is CNN," I thought, "Oh! A follow-up of how things are going." It did not cross my overloaded mind about being a CNN Top 10 Hero. ... But there was something different in the caller's voice.

My attention [was focused on] the present moment. I wanted to do so much more and had been looking into grants, donations, anything to keep me going. My eyes watered first as I clutched the phone a little tighter. She explained something about the Blue Ribbon Panel and said "selected as one of the Top 10." I had to contain my emotions, as my office has a glass door, so members of the gym can see me.

Containing my excitement, I turned my chair away from the glass door and looked at the blue sky. I was overjoyed, my heart sang with moments of "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" It was going pitter-pat, pitter-pat, but I know it's OK because I work out!

Q: What does it mean for the Blue Ribbon Panel to select you as a Top 10 Hero?

Fondren: I feel like a gift has been given and I can really use it to help others who are struggling. ... I feel like someone is paying attention, and I feel extremely honored. The Blue Ribbon Panel consists of heroes picking another hero. I feel like [they] are celebrating and helping another person make a difference in the lives of many.

Q: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Fondren: Shape Up Vicksburg brought something magical to the community. We learned others' life stories. We planted something new in the state of Mississippi that people wouldn't expect. And, most importantly, we are healthier.

I hope that Shape Up Vicksburg can show that we are all heroes when we are responsible. We are heroes when we serve as examples ... and help each other.