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Salt Lake Valley's healthiest principals earn $1,000 for schools

By Katie McKellar

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 22 2013 6:19 p.m. MDT

"DASH" attempts to lift a weight representing all the weight participants lost during the 2013 My Heart Challenge celebration dinner in Murray, Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

MURRAY — After 100 days of exercising and healthy eating, three Salt Lake Valley principals each earned $1,000 Wednesday for their respective elementary schools.

In all, 13 principals competed in the Intermountain Heart Institute’s My Heart Challenge, a contest intended to promote heart health in the community.

Becky Gerber from Herriman Elementary, Sally Sansom from East Midvale Elementary and Mark Longe from St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School earned money for their schools based on the number of points they collected through medical data measurements and participation.

Sansom was recognized for organizing a family night at East Midvale Elementary that promoted healthy habits for students and their families. Longe was recognized as the most improved participant, and Gerber was the overall winner based on her accumulated points.

“With something this public, failure was not an option,” Gerber said. “The support from the community for me has been huge, and I think that’s the biggest impact I feel, in addition to the changes I’ve had in my life.

"I’m very grateful for this opportunity and for the new friends I’ve made, and I fully intend to continue this journey,” she said.

Gerber said she promised her students she would use the reward money to purchase new exercise equipment for Herriman Elementary.

“These things I have learned are habit now,” Sansom said. “I have the confidence and the energy to exercise regularly, eat right, work at my career and be a parent. In my mind, I have won.”

Longe said he is grateful for the support to set an example and improve his health, especially since noticing he had developmed some unhealthy habits between the ages of 40 and 50.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a lot of work,” he said. “I hope to maintain it.”

Meagan Kline, an Intermountain Medical Center exercise physiologist who oversaw the competition, said the purpose of My Heart Challenge is to promote heart health awareness and prevent as many cardiovascular disease cases as possible.

“(Heart disease) is one of the main killers in the nation right now," Kline said. "It really is a big problem, but I think it’s overshadowed by other diseases sometimes.”

Intermountain Medical Center assisted the contest's participants by holding diet and exercise meetings and recording medical data such as blood pressure and body fat percentages before and after the competition, she said.

Mayors and community leaders participated in My Heart Challenge in 2012. Kline said the 2013 challenge reached even more people in the community by involving school principals.

“We had a broader outreach because we had the kids, the families, the siblings and so many people who were involved on a daily basis,” she said.

Reaching out to children also has its benefits, Kline said.

“It’s important to start at a very basic level," she said, "and with kids, it’s as easy as (saying), 'You need to play and you need to eat your vegetables at lunch.' It’s kind of nice to have the basics built at 7 and 8 years old versus when you’re trying to change habits at 40.”

Because of the contest’s success, Intermountain Heart Institute officials intend to continue the program, though they have not decided who will be participating next year, Kline said.

Other participating principals were John Erlacher, Newman Elementary; Christine Waddell, Butler Elementary; Heather Nicholas, Horizon Elementary; Karen Chatterton, Cottonwood Elementary; Tracy Rose, Twin Peaks Elementary; Diena Riddle, Hayden Peak Elementary; Brent Shaw, Canyon View Elementary; Lynne Rada, Bennion Elementary; Nikki Ward, St. John the Baptist Elementary; and Ruth Peters, Peruvian Park Elementary.

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

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