Skip to main content

Taylorsville Journal

Skyline, Taylorsville teachers compete for $1,000 in healthy heart challenge

Sep 20, 2018 01:47PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Thirteen teachers will take part in the 100-day heart challenge. Not pictured is Hillcrest High’s Jordan Hulet. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

After 13 years of going straight to her special education classroom in the morning to prepare for the day’s lesson, Skyline High teacher Julia O’Driscoll has changed her routine. She now arrives early, pulling out her sneakers from the newly acquired gym locker to walk two miles around the school’s track before setting a step into her classroom. 

“I go straight to the track every morning in an effort to get healthy,” she said. “I’m already making a huge difference in my life already. I saw a guy and two ladies doing the stairs in the stadium so I’m going to add that tomorrow. I love to swim, so I want to figure out how to add that into my exercise regimen.”

O’Driscoll also is counting the M&Ms she eats from her M&M dispenser on her desk. 

“I have 3-by-5 (inch) cards on my desk so I write down what I eat every time. It’s annoying to do so, so I’m eating less of them. I still have some so I don’t feel deprived, but not a whole package, which used to be normal,” she said, adding that chocolate is her weakness. 

O’Driscoll is changing to lead a healthy lifestyle after her father recently died of heart issues. Her brother also experienced them four years ago. 

However, what helped give her additional motivation was a chance to compete against 13 other high school teachers in the Salt Lake Valley in the 2018 My Heart Challenge, a contest to strengthen your heart health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. The teachers were selected after they applied May 1 to participate in the 100-day challenge. 

During the contest, teachers receive individual coaching and counseling from the heart specialists at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, from exercise and diet to counseling and cardiology. They meet for seven nutrition classes as well as with a dietician at a grocery store, they log their exercise and fitness and are tested for blood pressure, weight, body fat and other health markers. 

Through the challenge, teachers will record their progress on social media and invite their school to participate alongside through special projects. The winning teacher will receive $1,000 earmarked for the school, said Jess Gomez, challenge organizer. 

“We did this program with elementary principals a few years ago and their school activities ranged from a walking program during recess to a scavenger hunt involving all the grades,” he said. 

In addition to elementary school principals in 2013, the challenge, in its sixth year, has reached city mayors, firefighters, families and nonprofit organization employees.

Physician Assistant Viet Le said teachers were selected intentionally. 

“These teachers are like principals, role models for students and the community,” he said. “We want them to be healthier, and then share with other teachers and students and their families to enhance fitness and healthy lifestyles. Our goal is to reach the entire school and community.” 

Le said the heart challenge is more than just correcting lifestyles. 

“It’s about prevention,” he said. “We want to keep patients out of the hospital and to have an active part in their health care. We want them to lead a healthy life first and foremost.” 

O’Driscoll already has others supporting and joining her in her effort. 

“I realized if I started doing it, others naturally follow — my colleagues, my family. I have my niece doing it at the same time. She’s not doing it physically next to me, but she’s there with me every step of the way. I’ve always wanted to run a 5K, so if I can do that (this fall), then maybe I can do a 10K later and work up to a marathon. I’ve already talked to our student body officers about organizing a 5K fun run, so I hope that will make a difference at our school and I’ll be an advocate for being active. I feel empowered to make a change and help create that for my students and coworkers.” 

Similarly, Taylorsville High English teacher Kevin Harward realized he wanted to lead a healthier life and wanted that for his students as well. 

“It’s easier to binge-watch Netflix than to go exercise, but I’ve started by increasing the intensity and walking my dog more,” he said. “I’ve also hit the treadmill more and picked it up a notch.” 

Every Tuesday, Harward and other teachers meet with a nutritionist, and Harward has realized he needs to rethink dining weekly at a Mexican restaurant and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into his diet. 

“I’ve recently developed poor habits and have become lazy,” said the 1994 St. George Marathon finisher. “With a better diet and increase of activity, I’m getting a boost and recharging.” 

That is something he plans to share with his students and community.

“When they sent out the notice, I was thinking about improving health and fitness and didn’t realize it was a competition. I think having our school community participate would be great,” the 30-year veteran teacher said. “I have the kids read ‘The Jungle’ and we’ll talk about prepared and processed foods into the book discussion. We can talk about farming and other options of healthy foods. It would be a fun tie-in to the literary element. I’d like to open up lunchtime seminars about healthy lifestyles in our library so it will have a greater impact on all our students, parents and the community.” 

Intermountain Medical Center CEO Blair Kent appreciates the teachers’ enthusiasm in sharing their knowledge. 

“Our goal is for everyone to manage their own health and become passionate about it,” he said.

Follow the Taylorsville Journal on Facebook!