Frustrated with years of failed diets and inconsistent exercise, Kroger Vice President of Merchandising Randall Melton, 55, decided it was time to sign up for his company’s health insurance benefit program in the fall of 2017. The Kroger Wellness Services team paired him with Jana Stader, a local in-store pharmacist from his division, and they became an instant success.

Since their initial meeting, Randall has lost almost 100 pounds by following Jana’s personalized diet and exercise advice. Today, he’s toward a goal he never dreamed he’d be able to accomplish: training for a full marathon.

His success came slowly over two years, and Jana was there every step of the way. Although Jana has been a local running coach for years, this was the first time she’d been matched with a coworker through Kroger Wellness Services. She applied the lessons learned from previous coaching as well as her personal life to create an easy-to-follow plan for Randall.

They started with the basics: counting calories and learning about nutrition labels. After some trial and error, Randall started to see results and was losing about two pounds per week.

“It was a huge “aha!” moment for me to make realistic goals, understand portion control, and go beyond fad diets to make real change. The great thing about our friendship is that we work for a food company, which was certainly an advantage. In the beginning, we spent a lot of time walking around and talking in the stores.”

His typical diet now consists of lots of proteins, fruits, and healthy fats. He never skips breakfast (commonly berries, some eggs, and yogurt) and loves to carry around raw almonds as a snack in between carefully planned meals of chicken or salmon with salad.

Once Randall established a commitment to the new diet, he started taking note of Jana’s running habits. Jana and her husband, Scott, lead a runners community group called Run 365 in Collierville. At least four times a week Jana runs between four and eight miles through their neighborhood.

She started Randall on the elliptical at his gym, and after a few months, he joined the Road Race Series, a program designed to help runners build up to a half or full marathon with a set of shorter local races.

“I was there last March when he ran his first 5K, and it was awesome to see him reach his goal,” Jana says. “He was blown away—he couldn’t believe what he had accomplished. He really gained confidence and jumped in full steam after that.”

Today, Randall is down from 320 to 229 pounds and finished a half marathon in December with a time of 2:23:18. To prep for his upcoming full, he wakes up for an early morning run three to four times a week and loves to get steps in on the golf course. Recently he’s completed several of his “Bucket List Runs” in Shelby Park, Central Park in New York City, and London.

“I’m not necessarily chasing a number,” Randall says. “It’s not about 2019, or even 2020. I’m trying to be the best me for 2025, 2027, and beyond.”

He insists he would not be where he is without the encouragement and support from Jana, whose coaching philosophy is about believing in yourself, patience, and persistence.

“If she hadn’t helped me start out on this healthy lifestyle, I wouldn’t have met all the great friends that I have over the past year,” he says. “From the beginning, she’s been there to help me understand the ‘why’ behind the changes we make. She’s a very special person, and I’m thankful for our friendship.”

By India Nikotich