- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Jessica Adair is on the court in Los Angeles, working with a Minnesota Lynx assistant coach on her post moves about 90 minutes before tipoff against the Los Angeles Sparks.
She is wearing full sweats, a long-sleeved Lynx T-shirt and making her way deftly around the floor. Through layups, short jumpers and mid-range shots, she moves with ease and grace -- even lightness.
That is not something she could always claim.
But after a 70-pound weight loss and physical makeover that has included major dietary changes and a variety of fitness regimens, Adair is proud of what she has accomplished.
"Wanting to be a professional athlete helped me to deal with all this," Adair said. "I've worked hard."
The Lynx reserve post has remade her body since her college days at George Washington, when she carried as much as 270 pounds on her 6-foot-4 frame.
Adair said her size was an advantage in college and, for the most part, she didn't think about it.
"I was at a mid-major school; the competition wasn't necessarily the greatest every night so I wasn't in a position to have to force myself to have to be better," Adair said. "I never thought my size was slowing me down. I was productive at my size, so I felt like I was OK."
A new start
A coaching change her senior year forced the beginning of change.
"Coach told me I needed to be down to 240 by the time we started the year," Adair said. "I had a month to drop 30 pounds. And it had to be lifestyle change."
Adair said she went vegan during that period and cut her carbohydrates. She lost the weight.
"I went vegan for a while, but I never did the liquid diet," she said. "It was hard."
As a senior, Adair was the Colonials' leading scorer and rebounder and an all-conference selection for the third time. She ranked in the top 10 in her school's record books in rebounds and blocks.
But there was more work to do to become a WNBA-caliber player.
Adair said she never viewed herself as bigger -- maybe because she came from a family where everybody was "bigger" -- and there was always plenty to eat.
"My mom was a chef in the army and she likes to cook," Adair said. "She'd cook for 18 people and there would be just three of us in the house, me, my mom and my sister. We like to eat. I didn't feel any different than anybody in my family."
As she neared the end of her senior year, Adair was still playing at about 240 pounds. She was drafted 34th overall in 2009 by the Phoenix Mercury, a team known for Paul Westhead's run-and-gun system.
The Mercury evaluated Adair -- her weight and body size -- and cut her before training camp.
"I wouldn't have been able to keep up with their system. That really opened my eyes, that if I wanted to stay at this level I had to change things," Adair said. "That's what jump-started it. But if they hadn't done that, I wouldn't be where I am now."
Getting cut and the realization that she was in danger of becoming a high-risk candidate for diabetes -- her mother had the disease -- made Adair take the next step.
"I was for sure on my way," Adair said. "It was not something I ever wanted to have to deal with."
Adair said she has lost weight using a variety of diets. She has become a vegetable eater as well, joking that she used to think potatoes were a vegetable and would substitute fries for veggies when she ate at a restaurant.
She's become a fan of zucchini and raw spinach. She said a typical meal for her is sautéed zucchini, baked chicken and rice, but she needs to mix things up.
"It's hard to sustain one thing, as far as eating one way, for a long time," Adair said. "I usually stick with things for a couple of months at a time and then I slip up. But it's good for me to have a cheat day once in a while."
Adair changed her workout routine as well, from more traditional forms of conditioning and weightlifting to incorporating elements of the P90X fitness program and Insanity Workouts as well as plyometrics and cardio work.
P90X is a 90-day fitness regimen based on varied workouts to create "muscle confusion," switching routines, making one less likely to plateau. Insanity Workouts are high-energy with strenuous training to build stamina. Plyometrics builds fitness, speed and power with explosive movement.
"Oh, and I ran sprints up and down my street," Adair said. "My neighbors would come out and watch me. That was odd, actually."
After being waived by the Mercury, Adair did not play in the WNBA in 2009. She was signed by the Lynx in spring of 2010, waived in May and re-signed in August.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had been an assistant for former George Washington coach Joe McKeown and knew Adair because of their connection. From the first day of training camp, Reeve saw a player who needed to improve her conditioning. It was Adair's commitment to refining her physical health that led Reeve to re-sign Adair later in the summer of 2010.
"When other people are struggling or have questions, I send them to Jessica to have her talk to them about the things she's done," Reeve said. "She's been an example."
Adair said she's happy Reeve feels that way.
"I worked hard, and I think it says a lot about what I've done," Adair said.
Among those who have come to her for advice is fellow Lynx post Amber Harris. Harris and Adair played against each other in college in the Atlantic 10 Conference when Harris was at Xavier.
"It was a crazy change for her," Harris said of Adair. "I didn't even recognize her last year when I got to Minnesota. She was all skinny. I didn't know who she was."
Harris said her questions for Adair have been about portion control and menu choices. Harris has lost 30 pounds as well.
Adair has spent this season dealing with a knee injury. She had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and missed 14 games. She continues to work to maintain her weight, admitting that she likes to carry less in the offseason because "I like the way clothes look better."
But when the WNBA season ends, she will be headed to Spain to play for the winter. ("The food is going to be so good," Adair said.) She spent the last two years in Turkey, where the kabob and rice staples fit well with her efforts to eat right.
Adair knows her body well at this point. She starts most days with an egg-white omelet or protein shake. She knows bread puts weight on her midsection and juice also causes unwanted pounds. She will cut out both when she wants to drop a few pounds. She keeps the sweets to a minimum, even though she loves them, especially the strawberry shortcake at the Cheesecake Factory.
"It's about as big as my head. And I know it's wrong," Adair said. "I know what it takes to get down and get back up if I need to. Mentally, it's a little draining sometimes. I think about food all the time, my next meal, but it's easier if I think about it ahead of time. People have a to-do list and I have a to-do list of what to eat."
She said that eating on the road still presents her biggest challenges.
"There are so many different options, and you have to make choices," Adair said. "I still want a bacon cheeseburger instead of a salad, and sometimes I get it. But I usually feel bad."
Adair said she's gotten as low as 185 pounds, but is finding her balance between 195 and 200 pounds.
"At 185 I felt weak on the block, I felt like people were pushing me around, but I feel like I've found my perfect balance," Adair said.
She said she has worked hard to get healthy and it hasn't always been easy.
"It's a big struggle sometimes," Adair said. "My body image hasn't always been the best because I was so big. But I feel like my story can help people, especially young girls who are having issues, because you can change things and I don't want to be closed off about it at all."
Jessica Adair was cut by the Phoenix Mercury because of her weight. That spurred a dramatic weight-loss journey that landed her back in the WNBA, where she's an example for others.