MURRAY — Principals at 15 schools throughout the Salt Lake Valley are going head-to-head in a challenge that will test their hearts.
Each has pledged to exercise, eat healthy and incorporate wellness into their lives for at least the next 100 days, during the Intermountain Heart Institute's My Heart Challenge. The same challenge pitted a dozen city leaders against each other last year, resulting in healthier mayors and communities county-wide.
"I figured they'd have different obstacles to face, but principals are also really busy people and will face the same struggles as city leaders in finding the time to exercise, but they also have the support of hundreds of kids in their schools who are cheering for them," said Meagan Kline, an exercise physiologist at Intermountain Healthcare. "The accountability may be more prominent, however, because they will see their kids every day of the challenge."
Many of the participating principals plan to involve their students in the cause, rallying support for themselves to bring them closer to the two $1,000 prizes provided by the Heart Institute.
Cottonwood Elementary Principal Karen Chatterton said a family history of heart disease drew her into the competition.
"It's important to be healthy," she said. "I've decided to quit kidding myself and saying it is not going to happen to me, because, let's face it, the odds are against me."
Chatterton, 62, is looking forward to improving her lifestyle and feeling better about her body. A former dancer, she said she "knows what it feels like to be in shape and have my body work more efficiently."
Targeting principals in the Salt Lake City, Granite, Murray, Jordan and Canyons districts, as well as from two private schools, is intended to draw children into the friendly competition, giving them more reason to make healthy choices. Kline said the 15 participating principals have the opportunity to play a part in decreasing a growing epidemic of childhood obesity.
"They'll be able to impact these kids," she said.
In addition to Chatterton, principals participating in the challenge include Butler Elementary School Principal Christy Waddell; Canyon View Elementary's Brent Shaw; Nikki Ward, from St. John the Baptist Elementary School; Herriman Elementary School Principal Becky Gerber; St. Vincent de Paul School Principal Mark Longe; Sally Sansom from East Midvale Elementary; Heather Nicholas from Horizon Elementary; Twin Peaks Elementary's Tracy Rose; Clayton Middle School Principal Linda Richins; John Erlacher from Newman Elementary School; Peruvian Park Elementary's Ruth Peters; Cecilia Jabakumar from Arcadia Elementary; and Diena Riddle from Hayden Park Elementary.
Participants will track their daily progress and report weekly to Intermountain staff. Points can also be earned by attending nutrition classes and conducting fitness-related school activities and projects involving students. Results will be tallied after 100 days and winners will be named.
Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen, who won the most improved category during last year's competition, told participants to "just get moving" and make it fun. He included family members who ended up pushing him to be better throughout the 100 days and beyond.
Christensen lost 43 pounds and has continued to be an example of better health to friends and family, as well as community members who repeatedly saw him walking through the neighborhoods of his district.
Erlacher, who is participating in this year's challenge, plans to help Christensen organize a community health fair to encourage more of their neighbors and community members to get excited about health and wellness. He said there is much that can be done to give people a better outlook on life.
A type 2 diabetic, Erlacher has already been spending more than an hour a day in spinning classes and weight training. He also logs more than 10,000 steps each day on a pedometer strapped to his belt.
While he feels he has a leg up on the competition, Erlacher, 60, said his diet could use some help.
"I do well at breakfast and lunch, but my low blood sugar kicks in around 4 or 5 p.m. and I'm a real mess if I'm not careful," he said. "I love to cook and I tend to use a lot of butter."
Since he was 45 years old, Erlacher said he's been reading obituaries in the newspaper and has determined he doesn't want to end up there prematurely.
"I want to maintain this for the rest of my life," he said.
In addition to weekly nutrition classes and personal exercise consultations, participants will undergo baseline testing, including a treadmill stress test, blood lipid profile, blood pressure, glucose, and body mass index measure, which will each be repeated at the end of the challenge to reveal progress. The challenge concludes May 17.