OREM The whispers in the hallways of Orem Elementary School increased as the school year went on something about Principal Brad Davies was different. He seemed longer, leaner. His face seemed to get more narrow every day.
"Has Mr. Davies gotten taller?" a first-grader asked her teacher, after talking with the principal one day.
He's not taller. He's just smaller 100 pounds smaller, to be exact.
"The kids are funny," said Davies, who dropped 12 inches from his waist over the past school year. "Because I'm thinner, they think I had to have gotten taller to stretch myself out."
Davies has been preaching health to his students since he took the job as principal at Orem Elementary five years ago. As part of the state's
Gold Medal Schools program, Davies encouraged each class to take a mile walk around the schoolyard weekly. Food isn't used as a reward at the school. Students get little trinkets for good behavior rather than sugar.
"By promoting eating right, exercising and being involved in activities at recess, hopefully we can instill positive standards of living that will stay with these kids as they get older," Davies said. "Being healthy and fit should be a part of their lives."
Eight months ago, the then-260-pound principal decided to take his own advice. He traded in his pizza for salad, pasted a weight-loss chart on the fridge and recruited his wife as a running partner.
"As principal, I need to be an example," he said. "I want my students to know if you really stick to something, good things will happen."
As far as Davies is concerned, though, "good things" may be an understatement. He gets tears in his eyes when he talks about how his life has changed since he started pursuing a healthier lifestyle.
"I'm in there somewhere," he said, holding up a barely recognizable photo ID taken at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year. "But this is just a physical picture of me. I'm different now, not just physically, but mentally, too."
Before he lost the weight, Davies stood by as his students raised money during the traditional end-of-the-year walk-a-thon. This year, he joined in.
It felt good, he said, to hear the chatter as he breezed past the students on the track: "Was that Mr. Davies who just passed us?"
"I've got a staff of 50 and 650 students," he said. "If I can inspire or motivate even one person, I've accomplished my goal."
Minus one boy who bluntly told Davies, "I liked you better when you were fat," most of the students at Orem Elementary seemed proud of their principal's transformation."For some reason they like me better this way," Davies said. "I like myself better this way. I have so much more energy. I just feel better about life."