The dress at David's Bridal was light pink and jeweled. It turned her head immediately.
"It was really pretty," recalled 11-year-old Payton Maffett, "and I wanted it."
The problem was the dress "only zipped halfway," there was no bigger size, she refused to consider an alternative and her formal event, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Fashionetta, was too close.
Payton can dredge up every detail about the incident that occurred nearly two years ago. It was a turning point in her short life.
Today, nearly every weeknight, the Boyd-Buchanan student can be found at the Avondale Community Center exercising or playing basketball, dodgeball or kickball.
The sixth-grader is also up on her nutrition facts, watches what she eats and drinks a lot of the water she once considered "nasty."
Over time, Payton lost 20 pounds, too late for the pink dazzler -- her grandmother made her a sparkly substitute -- but not too late to get a handle on her weight.
"I said I didn't want to be the fat kid," she told her mother after the David's Bridal incident. "I can't wear [the dress]. I'm fat."
Pam Green-Maffett, Payton's mother, said she felt it was her role to make things better.
"I've got to fix this, and I can't," she recalled thinking. "I don't know what to say to her."
Soon after, though, Green-Maffett heard about Carolyn Meredith's exercise class at Avondale Community Center, decided to try it and took her daughter with her.
Once there, Payton said, she didn't think about her weight, felt safe around the group of women mostly older than her mother and just exercised.
"They nurtured her," Green-Maffett said of the other class members. "They encouraged her."
Payton said Meredith tells participants not to push themselves, to exercise at their pace and to take a break if they can't talk or breathe.
"She really an encourager," said Green-Maffett. "She genuinely cares."
After three or four months, Payton said she was weighed and measured at the dentist. The scales said she'd lost 12 pounds.
Payton said she couldn't wait to get to the car to tell her mother. "It was awesome."
Under Meredith's guidance, Payton works on her biceps, abs, lower abs, triceps and glutes. She's also participated in circuit training, an obstacle course and a boot camp.
She's still not wild about outdoor sports.
"I don't like bugs," Payton said.
Green-Maffett said she doesn't have to nag her daughter to go to the class, either.
"It's been easy," she said. "She'll get in her [exercise] clothes, get her water bottle and be ready."
A similar class is offered at Avondale Community Center as part of the East Chattanooga Wellness Program, said Brian Smith, public relations coordinator for the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department.
Overall, he said, 17 community centers have some sort of fitness component through a partnership with Memorial Hospital. Such partnerships just make sense with national obesity rates so high, he said.
"It's the true meaning of what a community center is," Smith said.
Green-Maffett said her daughter was already "perfect to me, but she wanted to change the perception of herself." So she appreciates what the Avondale center offered.
"It drew her in," she said of her daughter. "It didn't make her focus on [her weight]."
Payton encourages those in her former shoes to learn about nutrition, body weight and how to turn away negative comments.
"Don't think about what [critics] say," she said. "They're not trying to encourage you. They just want to bring you down."
And if they're so inclined, Payton said, "they could go exercise with me."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...