Johnnie Tyson with her niece, Sandra Fleming, visited StoryCorps in Little Rock, Ark.
When she was born, Johnnie Tyson weighed 13 pounds. As she grew up, she remained larger than her peers — weighing more than 100 pounds when she was 6 years old.
By the time she was a teenager, Tyson's weight had topped 300 pounds. The only place for her to weigh herself, she recalls, was down at the local Baptist Hospital, where they had a freight scale.
"You have to be extremely heavy before you understand what a painful situation it is," Tyson says. "I really believe, it helps me to establish an empathy with most any problem that people have, that keeps them from being able to accept themselves as they'd like to."
Asked by her niece, Sandra Fleming, what she is most proud of, Tyson says she's proud that she accepted life, moved on and accomplished what she wanted to do.
"If you're wise, you accept life — whatever it presents — and make the best of it, unless you want to go nuts," Tyson says.
Tyson worked as an educator for close to 30 years. Now retired, the 82-year-old spends much of her time exercising. She's nearly 150 pounds thinner than she was as a teenager.
Produced for 'Morning Edition' by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.