AlaskaCare Health Heroes

Health Hero Biographies

March Health Hero: Michael Schroeder, DOA, Division of Retirement & Benefits

Michael Schroeder

Michael Schroeder has been active in sports throughout his life, but it wasn’t until he enrolled in his first martial arts class that he “really got a taste of what a total body workout was like,” he said. He has now been practicing martial arts for forty years and is an instructor in the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do. Michael credits Tae Kwon Do with making him the person he is today through stressing the martial arts triangle of mind, body and spirit. “It literally changed my life in the ways of strength of character, integrity, courtesy, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. One of the primary reasons I train and teach this martial art is to return the gifts that Tae Kwon Do has given me,” he explained.

With forty years of martial arts training under his belt, Michael owes his good health to all those years of both physical and mental training. His Tae Kwon Do training has several components: “I strength train to keep my muscles from degenerating. I stretch to increase my flexibility and balance. I aerobically train (go up and down flights of stairs for 25 minutes) so as to be able to last the sparring rounds with those who are 30 years younger than I am, and I meditate in order to improve my focus and concentration; a necessary ingredient for control and breaking,” he explained. Michael enjoys all aspects of his training and enjoys working towards his goals: “I know that working towards goals of advancement in the art will give me constant improvement. I believe that is what life is about: self-improvement.”

The colleague who nominated Michael as a Health Hero did so because of the healthy, active lifestyle choices Michael consistently makes daily, including his diet, attitude, and exercise routine. Some of those choices include walking the stairs instead of using the elevator, doing pushups and sit ups during breaks, drinking water instead of a snack or soda, avoiding gatherings with unhealthy food choices, and making time for jokes and laughter (the best medicine). He leads by example and is encouraging, she said. “He makes me want to do the same, or at least try to incorporate some of these healthy lifestyle choices into my daily routine and life.”

Michaels’ journey to wellness began through Tae Kwon Do, but he encourages others to find their own passion and develop it. No matter how you choose to improve your health, he believes that the martial arts triangle of mind, body, and spirit can be useful. “Train your mind. Train your body. And don’t forget to train your spirit. We seem to be so connected with all the electronics today that we don’t allow ourselves to reflect. I believe this is a necessary component to health,” he said.

Michael believes that many of us do not prioritize our own health. “We simply take our health for granted until one of our loved ones, or dare I say, ourselves, get a dose of reality,” he explained. “We get slapped on the face with our lifestyle and it is then that we either choose to make a change or not…we always have choices and consequences,” he said. “The question always will be, ‘What is your health worth?’ and ‘Will you make time for yourself?’ The best advocate for your health is you. Make the commitment to yourself!”

June Health Hero: Jodie Mack, AIDEA

Jodie Mack

Jodie was nominated as a Health Hero by Judy Ellenburg of ActiveHealth Management. Judy said, "Jodie is a very active new mom that is committed to get back to her pre-baby weight. Jodie is an inspiration to her co-workers and her young family with her dedication to her fitness and overall health."

Jodie began her journey to a healthier lifestyle in 2008 when she quit smoking. Although it was a healthy change, she said it caused her to her gain weight, be unhappy, tired, and unhealthy. In 2010, she made another big health change and started running in order to compete in a Biggest Loser competition hosted by her co-workers at her previous job. She ended up losing about ten percent of her body weight and receiving second place in the competition. She said, "My biggest reward, though, was developing a love for running; something I had hated growing up." She continued running, and about five weeks later, ran her first race, the Twilight 12K. "I was instantly hooked and signed up for the Big Wildlife Runs half-marathon that year," she said. Since her first race, Jodie has completed two full marathons, about a dozen half-marathons, and many shorter distance races.

In August 2014, Jodie had a son, which gave her further motivation to stay healthy. Since then, her goal has been to get her fitness level back to her pre-pregnancy state. While pregnant with her son, Jodie had gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which motivated her to keep her activity level up and her weight down to help prevent any future health problems, such as high blood pressure and Type II Diabetes. For Jodie, her son is a huge motivating factor for maintaining good health: "My ultimate goal is to set a good example for my son on how to balance a healthy lifestyle with work, social commitments, etc. I want him to be healthy and active, especially since he's at risk for Type II diabetes," she explained.

Jodie Mack with Son and Friends

Since beginning her new active lifestyle, Jodie's energy level has increased significantly, her mood and quality of sleep have improved, and she has noticed her strength increase, "which is good for toting around my 20-plus pound nine-month-old," she said. Jodie enjoys seeing her progress as well as seeing [immeasurable] goals reached, such as fitting back into pre-pregnancy clothes.

To help achieve her fitness goals, Jodie is a member of the Anchorage Running Club, hikes with her husband, son, and dogs Keanna and Calla, swims with her coworkers twice a week at lunch, and runs with friends. Jodie enjoys that all of these activities can be done in a group or alone. "Running has become 'me time' when I can shut off my brain and decompress…but I enjoy the social aspect of participating in activities with others," she said.

While working towards her own fitness goals, Jodie holds her friends and coworkers accountable for their workouts as well. "I have one coworker who has me ask her if she worked out the previous evening. Knowing that I will ask her the next morning has helped her stay motivated to get out the door," she said. Jodie also likes to suggest to her husband that they take after dinner hikes or walks with the dogs and their son. She sees it as great family time and a way to show her son the beautiful trails they enjoy hiking on. She also likes to suggest "catch up time with the girls" to her girlfriends to get them out on training runs with her. Currently, Jodie is training for the Mayor's Marathon in June and the Big Wildlife 49K in August.

One piece of advice Jodie would like to share with others to encourage them on their journey to meet their fitness goals is the following: "Never give up. Just because you don't see the scale moving doesn't mean your body isn't changing." She points out that you can lose inches and stay the same weight. She suggests using body measurements as a way to track weight loss progress. As far as staying motivated, she has a few suggestions: "On days that I'm tired, I'll put on my running gear when I get home, because in my mind, walking around in running gear without going for a run is ridiculous." This is a strategy that has worked for her, but she also suggests the "15-minute rule": "If after 15 minutes of doing an activity you still want to quit, you can, but after that amount of time, most people have gotten into a nice flow-state and don't quit," she said.

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September Health Hero: Marta Mueller, DNR, Division of Oil & Gas

photo of Marta

Marta Mueller started her journey to healthier living in October 2009 by moving gently and tracking her nutrition. She started adding activities and now skis, bikes, hikes, swims, plays, walks, and runs to reduce stress and keep her body well. She eventually lost over 80 pounds and has been able to complete four sprint-class Gold Nugget Triathlons. Her current goals are to maintain her weight loss and to finish her first Olympic-distance Lavaman Triathlon in Kona, HI, in March 2015.

Marta finds that participating in group fitness classes, social groups with an adventurous bent, online nutrition and fitness tracking and social networking, charity fitness events, and fun with her friends and family help her to stay on track towards her wellness goals. "I made a commitment to myself to spend at least 300 minutes (5 hours) in moderate to heavy-intensity activity each week," said Marta, "and generally meet that goal." One of the things Marta enjoys most about working towards her goals is the sense of accomplishment after learning new things. "I learned how to swim as an adult at 37 and skate ski this past winter," said Marta. "I love the feeling I have when my body moves freely and with strength. I love the happiness I feel when I play. I love the feeling of freedom when I ride or ski. And nothing beats crossing the finish line!"

Through her example and encouraging words, Marta is constantly motivating those around her to live healthy lives. "I encourage my co-workers to participate in AlaskaCare events in the workplace such as worksite coaching and presentations," said Marta. "I will always listen and encourage the people around me to tell me their wellness stories and cheer them on!" The person who nominated Marta as an AlaskaCare Health Hero said, "Marta focuses not only her own personal wellness but also promotes and encourages a culture of wellness for her co-workers. She supports them as they make small lifestyle changes at work and at home... An active member of the AlaskaCare Wellness Committee, she advocates for wellness… Marta is an all-around Health Hero, in her own life, her workplace and for the State of Alaska!"

Marta's advice for your journey to meet your wellness goals: "If it isn't fun, don't do it! Try out a number of nutrition and fitness activities to find what works best for you."

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May Health Hero: Michael Brown, Alaska Court System

photo of Michael

Michael Brown was diagnosed with diabetes last July. He weighed 324 pounds at the time, down from a lifetime high of about 350 pounds a little over a year ago. Remarking on his condition, Michael said, "The doctor didn't hold out a lot of hope. My glucose was 336 (100 is the threshold), and my Hemoglobin A1C was 13.6 (5.5-6.0 is considered normal and safe)."

Today, Michael weighs 216 pounds, his fasting glucose runs in the low 80s, and his A1C is 5.6. "I enjoy the feeling of floating on air that weighing 130 plus pounds less than I did a year ago gives me," said Michael about his dramatic weight loss. According to his doctor, Michael no longer needs medications to manage his diabetes. How did he achieve such great success? To begin, Michael joined Weight Watchers at Work. "Weight Watchers has been huge in helping me get where I am today," said Michael. "I watched my coworkers lose weight and improve their health on the program and decided that the education, camaraderie, and accountability that Weight Watchers offered would be a big plus in my goal to change my lifestyle. Although I had already started losing weight and changing my life, I found friends in Weight Watchers that had the same goals and that wanted what I wanted: to reclaim their lives." Michael started walking 25 to 30 minutes every day at lunch with colleagues from his Weight Watchers at Work group, building up to 3.5 to 4 miles every single day. Michael has also joined a social fun run each Tuesday night for a 5k to 6k walk. "At week seven, I actually started jogging a bit and I have worked up to running over half of the course with my daughter each week," said Michael. "The feeling I get when I finish and have shaved a minute or two off the previous week is amazing." Michael has also added mountain biking to his wellness program since the weather has improved, sparking memories of how much he enjoyed riding over twenty years ago.

Michael's current goals are to continue losing weight to get down to 175 to 180 pounds, to maintain that weight long term, and to continue managing his diabetes through his lifestyle instead of with medication. "Despite my doctor's enthusiastic endorsement that I am 'cured,' at this point, there is no 'cure' for diabetes," said Michael. "I am simply managing my disease with lifestyle choices rather than medication. I will always be a diabetic and I will always live the same lifestyle I have adopted over the past 10 months to stay healthy and medication free."

When asked if he had any advice for others, Michael said, "There is no magic cure, no 'diet,' and no shortcut to get to your goals. There is only desire and your will to change. You have to take stock of your life, look to see where it is headed, and makes some decisions. That's the hard part, the first step. If you want it bad enough and believe in yourself, there is nothing you can't accomplish. Yoda said it best: 'Do or do not, there is no try.'"

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April Health Hero: Anne Davis, Mt. Edgecumbe High School

photo of Anne and family

Anne Davis started a health and fitness program when her husband fell ill. Although he had not been leading an unhealthy lifestyle–they were both active and ate reasonably well–Anne's husband was diagnosed with diabetes. Anne and her husband then decided to put the health of their family at the top of their priority list. Since a year and a half ago, Anne has been eating healthfully and working out daily.

Anne credits fitness classes with changing her life and her wellness goals. "Before, I would go jogging outside or on my treadmill about 3 to 4 miles, but I plateaued and the numbers on the scales would never budge," said Anne. "The results from the classes were absolutely amazing! My fitness coach has been amazing and has pushed me beyond what I ever thought I could do and has encouraged me to continue on this fitness journey. I used to be infatuated with seeing the scale budge and dropping pant sizes, but had to refocus because you can only lose so much weight. I was scared that once I reached my goals I would fall off the deep end and quit working out and eat junk food. Making new goals has helped me to continue. My goal now isn't to lose weight but to continue to get stronger and continue to eat healthy foods for the rest of my life. I love noticing differences in my endurance and strength."

According to a coworker who noticed Anne's dramatic change in lifestyle, "The results have been trimmer, über-fit parents and a much healthier family, including her husband, whose original diagnosis was scary." Through it all, Anne tries to encourage everyone around her to make healthful choices. "Anne is not only an inspiration to me, but to so many others and her dedication has made for improved health and fitness that has spread to her entire family," continued her colleague. "That's where it all starts, at home!" Anne even hopes to someday become a health coach to help others reach their goals by using the knowledge she has gained helping her family tackle their personal health challenges. When prompted to share some advice for reaching health goals, Anne said, "Cut back your portions to the recommended portion sizes. Measure your food and stick to it. Following a well-balanced meal plan is the key. I followed the diabetic meal plan eating the right carbs, fats, proteins, etc., and the weight fell off. There is no magic diet pill that will give you the results that I've witnessed on my own. With diet and an honest work out, anyone can see results!"

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March Health Hero: Nickie Saceda-Hurt, DH&SS, Division of Juvenile Justice

photo of Nichel and family

Nickie Saceda-Hurt began working towards her wellness goals as a student at the University of Alaska Southeast when she pledged herself to not gaining the "freshman fifteen." Nickie had always struggled with her weight growing up. "I remember my mother cooking in the kitchen and her dishes smelling so good," said Nickie. "I could not resist the taste of a home cooked Filipino meal… and I remember the struggles I had in gym class … [I] would dread having to go." Once she started college, Nickie made good on her promise to herself to avoid gaining more weight by taking advantage of a student discount to join fitness classes at the Juneau Racquet Club. Nickie began to take pride in her fitness accomplishments and her family and friends began to notice she was looking healthier.

Now, Nickie stays active by hiking, walking, playing volleyball and softball, and attending group fitness classes at The Alaska Club. For a little over a year, she has even been teaching Group Blast/Step and Power classes at the gym. Since she successfully integrated being active into her everyday life, Nickie finds motivation to keep working to maintain her health in her children. She commented, "I want to continue to be healthy for my children and show them that any exercise, outdoor activity, and sports can be fun. My daughter recently started attending fitness classes with me and I think it's a great way to… show [her] that hard work and dedication will pay off [in] the end. Plus, we get to spend mother-daughter time together!" In addition to her children, Nickie also inspires the people she works with to lead healthier lives. According to one coworker, Nickie "encourages her work mates to live a healthy lifestyle including exercise. She is great role model for healthy living."

Nickie hopes people working to become healthier remember to be patient with themselves. "Change is not going to happen overnight," observed Nickie. "Take it day by day." However, she also encourages her coworkers and fitness students to take initiative for their health. "If you don't get up [from] behind that desk or take a break," she said, "you're not going to do it. The hardest part is getting there."

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January Health Hero: Chera Boom, DH&SS, Finance and Management Services

photo of Chera

Chera Boom's journey to a healthier, more active lifestyle started about eleven years ago when she reached a milestone birthday and realized she was out of shape. "I was so overweight," said Chera, "I couldn't tie my shoes or walk up a flight of stairs without being terribly out of breath. I literally thought my life was over, that I'd never be able to hike up into the mountains again." Chera then decided to participate in a Weight Watchers at Work program, and finally started to lose weight and become active. She even completed her first Alaska Women's Gold Nugget Triathlon that year. "I couldn't swim, didn't run, could barely bike— makes total sense to do a triathlon, right?" observed Chera. But friends and coworkers cheered her on, and she's completed many other triathlons and running events since.

Unfortunately, Chera suffered a knee injury and had to have surgery last spring. However, she is resolutely working to get back to running. For Chera, this means taking off extra weight she gained while being depressed about not being able to run, restoring her core strength, biking on a wind trainer, completing a very tedious walk-to-run program, and trying to eat healthier. As part of her recovery effort, she has also begun to facilitate and participate in the Weight Watchers at Work group in the Frontier Building in Anchorage. One of her colleagues who participates in this Weight Watchers at Work group describes Chera as "non-judgmental, professional, and empowering." When working towards their own wellness goals, Chera hopes that others remember, "Everything that you do toward better health counts, no matter how insignificant it can seem. Things like not getting that usual second helping at dinner; drinking one additional glass of water each day; a five-minute walk break away from your desk. All the little things add up to make a healthier lifestyle. So, think about small, manageable changes you can realistically do, then congratulate and appreciate yourself when you achieve those changes!"

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December Health Hero: Courtney Bacom

photo of Courtney

Courtney Bacom started going on more hikes during college but wasn't being active everyday like she knew she needed to be. Then she got a puppy from the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel. Together with her dog, Kiska, Courtney spends more time outside after work and on the weekends than she does inside. According to Courtney, "[Kiska] runs me into the ground… daily and I can't thank her enough for it." Courtney got back into running because it was a good way to tire Kiska out as she got older. Then she was invited by a group of people with whom she had been hiking on a regular basis to join their Klondike Road Relay team. Designated as an alternative at first, Courtney got her chance to contribute to the team after a teammate was injured. She ended up having to run the "Glory Leg"—the last, 12.1-mile stage of the relay. She crossed the finished line with exactly one minute to spare for her team to qualify as having finished the relay within the required amount of time. Despite the pain, sweat, and tears that came with the race, Courtney was excited that she was able to accomplish two of her health and fitness goals: to "do the best I can [every]day" and to "make crazy-fun memories with awesome people, and have a blast doing it." Now, Courtney plans to run all ten legs of the Klondike Road Relay over the coming years!

Courtney says that "I don't really have the 'I want to be able to bench press a small pony' kind of goals; mine are more like 'Hey, that sounds fun! I want to do that! Let's do that!'" To keep herself even more motivated to stay active, she uses applications such as MapMyFitness and Nike+ on her smartphone. In addition to tracking her routes and distances, these tools integrate with social media so that Courtney can support and be supported by her peers. In the end, Courtney wants others to "never underestimate peer support" and to make sure to "find people who encourage you… There is an entire generational difference between me and my hiking group, and we encourage each other like you wouldn't believe… [Also], make sure that you are encouraging other people."

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November Health Hero: Román Castro

photo of Román

Román's current wellness goal is to lose 100 pounds of body fat. He started working towards this target in January 2013 by completing a 12-week transformation challenge. Román continued working out after finishing the 12-week program because he realized how amazing he was feeling, how much healthier he was, and how much he enjoyed exercising. As of October, Román has lost about 76 pounds! How has he done it? First, he goes to the gym five to six days per week; he is sure to incorporate both cardio and resistance training into each workout. Second, Román has changed his diet, eating small, nourishing meals every 2 hours. According to Román, his "first pound lost will always be the most meaningful… It was proof that I could do something about the way I looked, the way I viewed myself, and how others viewed me." One of his colleagues pointed out that Román's "attitude is really upbeat… he encourages everyone to work out and be healthy." When asked for a piece of advice to share with others to encourage them on their journey to meet their health, wellness, and fitness goals, Román said, "Don't be afraid to fail. We all fail. It's part of life. The most important [thing] is to learn from your failures, come back, and keep trying [until] you succeed."

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October Health Hero: Dianna Roberts

photo of Dianna

Dianna Roberts is an active individual who also encourages her coworkers and friends to be active. Having never run more than a mile in her life, she established a running program in April and set the goal of running a half marathon in Sitka. She completed this goal on August 3. She is currently helping a coworker get fit for his wedding by training with him daily in the gym. Dianna also organized a women's volleyball team of staff from the Division of Personnel & Labor Relations and the Division of Finance. Dianna was previously a ballet teacher and will be the lead mother in the Nutcracker ballet put on by Juneau Dance Unlimited this holiday season. She enjoys hiking, dancing, spinning, weight training, and kayaking. Dianna's next goal is to run a half marathon in Juneau in October and another in Honolulu next May. According to a coworker with whom she exercises, Dianna "encourages friends, family, and coworkers to consider their nutritional and lifestyle choices. She makes those around her healthier. She's an inspiration and wonderful person."

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September Health Hero: Cindy Thomas

photo of Cindy

Cindy Thomas was already an active person walking and taking stairs at work whenever possible, but she wanted to lose weight and she was unable to do it on her own. Cindy joined the Weight Watchers at Work program and learned she can eat what she wants as long as she pays attention to portion size. Cindy added more fruits and vegetables to her diet and started tracking her daily points. Cindy shared that the sense of camaraderie she experienced through Weight Watchers at Work positively impacted how she approached her weight loss, with members holding themselves accountable for what and how much they eat. Cindy's weight loss success has earned her Lifetime Member status in Weight Watchers.

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August Health Heroes: Jaime Muhr and Kate Sumey

Jamie Muhr
Jaime Muhr

Jaime Muhr joined Weight Watchers at Work in August 2012, with the goal of shedding some winter pounds. She set up a final goal weight, but honestly never thought she would accomplish it because she hadn't been at that healthy weight since high school. Now, after losing 47 pounds through the Weight Watchers program, she describes how the program helped her lose weight and improve her health.

Jaime struggled to learn the food point values and to stay within her "budget." Over time she became aware of how much she was overeating and how unhealthy her food choices had been. She found she wanted to eat simply, incorporating more "power foods" because it was easier for her to track. Since Jaime likes routine, she would eat the same things regularly and pre-planning came naturally to her. To be successful Jaime pre-plans at least a week's worth of meals and grocery shops accordingly.

Jaime hit her 10% goal in January and happened to have an annual physical around the same time. She was shocked at the significant drop in her blood pressure. In the past she struggled with seasonal affective disorder in the winter, but this past winter she felt more energized than ever.

Jaime added exercise into her daily routine about six months ago. The more she exercised, the more she wanted to push herself. By the summer, she was able to bike over 50 miles in one day and has started other new exercise routines like jogging.

For Jaime, one of the best parts of the Weight Watchers at Work program has been the support of her co-workers who are in the exact same situation. They see each other in the hallways, giving praise and support. Jaime looks forward to her weekly meetings so that they can share their struggles and celebrate their progress.

Jaime's journey is not over and she is continuing to look forward to opening up more avenues for healthy and positive changes in her life.

Kate Sumey
Kate Sumey

Kate Sumey attends the Weight Watchers at Work meetings held at the Alaska Court System. Since joining Weight Watchers in August 2012, she lost 54 pounds and has seen her health improve as a direct result of the program!

Kate recently had blood work done and was ecstatic about her results. At her annual physical last year, she learned she was pre-diabetic. Approximately 10 months later, after joining the At-Work program, her physician told her that her HgA1c levels were within a normal range and that her cholesterol levels were "outstanding."

The key to Kate's success has been eating more fruits and vegetables, eating smaller portions and increasing her activity. She has stocked her house with healthy food (and hides snacks—if she wants a snack she can have one, just not the entire bag). Kate plans a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner—she brings her lunch to work and always has fresh fruit and veggies on hand. The at-work meetings, online tools and ongoing support from her co-workers have been a HUGE contributor to her success.

Over the past year Kate has increased her activity which now includes swimming, taking cross-country ski lessons, biking, hiking and hitting the gym with a friend when the weather is bad.

Kate has learned it's not just one thing that contributes to her weight loss; it's an entire combination of developing new habits and skills for long-term lifestyle change. Weight Watchers is not a diet, it is a tool to teach lifestyle change.

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July Health Hero: Debbie Ruckle

Debbie Ruckle

When I got the email telling me I was nominated as Health Hero for the month of July, I was in the midst of a struggle with figuring how to keep motivated with my lifestyle changes. Two years ago I had knee surgery and was told I would need a full knee replacement at some point in the future. Losing weight and getting in better physical shape would determine how soon. I started walking, but really didn't make any other changes. About a year later, I still hadn't seen much progress, but I was quickly approaching a milestone birthday and I decided I had better make some changes.

My husband and I joined a gym and starting working out early in the morning before work. I was starting to lose a bit of weight but not as quickly as I would have liked. Then, last summer, the email about Weight Watchers at Work came out and I quickly decided I didn't want to weigh-in each week in front of people I worked with. A co-worker asked me if I was going to join and I waffled. When they said they were going to do it I said, "Fine, you twisted my arm." I started attending weekly meetings and when I learned to make better decisions about my daily food choices the weight started to slowly come off.

My success is not just about figuring out how to exercise and eat right; it's been a total transformation about how I feel about myself. Many people have asked what my "secret" is. They say I look healthy, happy and younger than ever. It's been difficult to see what everyone sees. Recently I showed an old photo to several people and it took them a moment or two to figure out which person in the photo was me. In my mind, I still looked like the person in the photo. It wasn't until I actually looked at the picture that I finally got it; I really have made changes, and if I can do it, anyone can.

I now have energy to do things I once avoided. My youngest son is a cross country skier and runner. I never missed a meet, but all I could do was stand at the start/finish gate and wait for him to arrive. This year I bought skis and have gotten out on the trails with him.

I have found my motivation again and I'm working through the roadblocks keeping me from attaining my goals. Exercise may never come easy to me, but I feel better than I have in years. I am able to participate fully in the activities my sons do and I am once again enjoying life, which makes those early morning workouts worth every minute. I hit that milestone birthday this year and can proudly say I lost 50 pounds by the time I turned fifty and have never felt better in my life.

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June Health Hero: Michele Michaud

Michele Michaud

I am a definitely a morning person, and since this condition is not genetic and my kids like to sleep in, it was a natural fit for me to utilize this time to exercise. I started by walking outside when weather permitted, and when it didn't, it was inside to the treadmill. Did I mention I live in Juneau?

One Christmas, my husband got me a year-long gym membership. To my surprise, he actually paid attention when I told him what I wanted. My gym offers group exercise classes from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. I could now join other morning people, have fun, stay motivated and have some measure of accountability because us early birds notice when someone doesn't show up. Now over two years later, I still regularly go to the gym in the morning three to four times a week, as well as walking and sometimes swimming on off days. In addition to giving my husband a ready Christmas gift he can purchase on Christmas Eve, my morning routine helps me stay energized, alert and motivated throughout the day. And now that I have more energy, I often incorporate exercise in the evening too!

I have also altered my diet. I eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, Greek yogurt has become a regular mid-morning protein boost, and I drink water from my big 24 oz. cup all day. I pack my lunch and snacks so I don't have to rely on less healthy cafeteria or restaurant alternatives.

I made changes to my fitness and diet routines gradually, and plan to continue to add one more healthy habit to my tool belt at a time. I may never be able to keep up with my teenage son on a mountain bike or my daughter hiking on steep mountain trails, but I will be out there embarrassing them by trying!

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May Health Hero: Lori Yorba

Lori Yorba

I enjoy outdoor activities like running, hiking, cycling, kayaking, and skiing. In fact, I've been running during lunch hours with my running pals for over 15 years. Alaska is an incredible place to enjoy outdoor fitness activities. But, like most people, most of my activities are indoors. I have been teaching fitness classes since 1980 – "Disco Inferno" was one of the songs on my playlist back then! I've been a certified group fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise since 1995, with certifications in yoga, kickboxing, Pilates, Zumba and strength workouts. I enjoy teaching fitness to people, seeing how much fun they have, and witnessing the benefits it brings them. I am currently studying for a personal trainer certification. I plan to continue helping people get and stay fit for many years to come.

Three years ago my body told me it was time to make some changes to my fitness activities. When I woke the morning of February 3, 2010, something was terribly wrong in my lower back. I had numbness down my right leg to my big toe. The pain was so severe I had to kneel on the floor to keep from fainting. That day I started a new journey. Several doctors, lots of research and medical procedures later, I decided I was going to find a way on my own to overcome the chronic pain carefully, without surgery. I am happy to say I have been successful. I am back to most activities and I simply avoid the ones triggering pain. I hope as people read this they will understand they can overcome an injury without invasive procedures and drugs. It does take time and patience to heal along with doing research to understand the source of the pain, what is causing it and how to treat it.

The day I got the email telling me I was nominated Health Hero for the month of May, I had just returned from teaching a cardio dance class during my lunch hour at a local fitness club. I gave the class a homework assignment I would like to share: Go home, put on your favorite dance music and start dancing. Have fun with it and find your groove to move!

Rest, relaxation and a good night's sleep are just as important as exercise and good nutrition. It's okay to take a break and let one's body rest and regenerate. Remember to switch it up to keep things fresh and to avoid strain from too much repetition. Make sure to mix cardio, strength and flexibility into a fitness routine. And above all, remember the magic pill is motion!

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April Health Hero: Natalya Stoddard

Natalya Stoddard

Natalya Stoddard is an inspiration to those around her, creating excitement about exercise and fitness among her co-workers. As one of her colleagues writes, "Natalya is always enthusiastic about her personal workouts. When asked if you can join her, she is very agreeable and holds you accountable if you don't attend workout classes with her. It's a good influence to have someone so motivating around you."

Natalya knows how important it is to have the support of friends and peers to transform daily exercise from a chore into a habit. In 2010, she got together with a group of friends and decided to sign up for a gym membership. She remembers how challenging it was at first to stay motivated to exercise every day, but her group of friends made a deal that each time one of them missed a day, they would have to pay five dollars. The deal paid off and soon an hour a day at the gym became part of her routine, an important source of stress relief and an energy booster in her life. Now, three years later, Natalya is still going to the gym every night for an hour after work. As she says, "It's only one hour out of 24 and by 6 p.m. I am out of the gym, energized, and ready to spend time with my family and friends."

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March Health Hero: Raquel Ibias

Raquel Ibias photo

When I was 14 years old, I found out I had type 1 diabetes. At the time, education about diabetes was limited. We were still learning about better types of insulin as well as the long-term effects of not regulating blood sugar levels. At that age, as with many other teenagers, long-term consequences weren't on my radar. My lack of knowledge led to a seemingly innocent candy bar or a pizza with friends. Testing my blood sugar was inconvenient but was also the one way I could have become aware of my blood sugar levels. What I didn't know wouldn't hurt me, right? At the time, the worst side-effect was I was tired. Not fully understanding the long-term effects of these decisions and living with consistently high blood sugar levels, a person can get used to being "tired."

After several years, the long-term effects started to impact me. I began to lose the feeling in my feet and endured numerous eye surgeries to maintain my sight. Because they were dealt with early enough, my life felt fairly unaltered. Two years ago, that all changed. I went in for some much needed but often avoided blood work. Shortly after, I received a call that would change not only my life, but my family's as well. The doctor told me I was in kidney failure as a direct result of the lack of management of my diabetes. My options were dialysis, kidney transplant, or if I did nothing, death within about a year. Unlike many people in my situation, I have several siblings, all of whom share my blood type and were willing to donate. This meant that as a family, we had options for transplant. One of my sisters turned out to be the best match. I don't have the words for the feelings and emotions that came with accepting that gift. Going through this process has changed my outlook on everyone and everything I experience.

My motivation to staying healthy and managing my diabetes is three-fold. First, I want to live a long healthy life so I can watch my son grow up and be there for him. I have to be alive and healthy to do that. Second, my sister gave me a rare gift. I don't consider it my kidney. I am taking care of something that belongs to someone else. I can only compare it to being pregnant. It's not just about you. And finally, I want to be able to educate others with diabetes or those with a family history of diabetes. There are many life changes a person needs to make in order to successfully manage their diabetes and avoid the long-term effects. None of these changes are impossible. The benefits of a person with diabetes staying healthy greatly outweigh the inconvenience of the effort required.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to find a donor and to have undergone a successful transplant. I'm not home free. I will have to take several anti-rejection meds for this new kidney for the rest of my life, each with their own side effects. I could also potentially lose the kidney simply because my body rejects it. I will also continue to manage my diabetes on a daily basis. I am currently wait-listed for a pancreas transplant which, if successful, will take away my diabetes. Even then, there will be challenges. Until then, I will continue to wear my insulin pump 24 hours a day as well as watch for and do my best to prevent the many long-term effects of diabetes.

Regardless of what I deal with in my life, whether it is health related or anything else, I have learned to stay motivated and to find the good in my life. I always try to remember that there are many people going through so much worse. I will always have medical concerns, but I do have my life, my family, and a lot of control over my health. Staying healthy, eating right, educating myself, and keeping a positive outlook sounds so simple but we all know it isn't. I can only speak to my own challenges, but as I work through each one, I become a better person.

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February Health Hero: Daniel Gallagher

Daniel Gallagher family photo

Daniel Gallagher and several of his colleagues in the Alaska Court system have made a commitment to a healthier lifestyle by eating better and being more active. After several months of working in an environment that supports healthy changes, he has made progress toward his wellness goals. He can tell the work is paying off because he is now able to run and play with his kids without being short of breath, he feels more energized, his flexibility has increased and pain he has experienced in the past is subsiding.

Daniel says, "I feel more confident than before. This is something I've gained and have seen other Court System participants gain as well. Having more confidence in oneself is priceless."

Daniel has more energy during the work day and he feels more aware due to the healthy changes in his life. Daniel puts emphasis on small changes, because they can make a big difference over time. A small step in the right direction is still movement towards your goal. Daniel thinks of a favorite quote from Walt Disney, "Never Stop Moving Forward." With the support of his colleagues, and with the Wellness program options offered, he knows he won't ever stop moving forward!

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January Health Hero: Dennis Good

Dennis Good

Dennis is a true role model of healthy living, who encourages his colleagues and supports them in making long and short-term decisions for their health. He teaches others about healthy lifestyles and nutrition and aspires to guide them in making changes one step at a time.

One colleague says "I am motivated and full of energy. I have health goals not only for myself but for my beautiful children. Because of Dennis, my children talk about food combinations and calorie burning benefits and as well as good and bad carbs." Dennis is a role model and a true Health Hero.

Dennis offers these words of wisdom: "Drink water and walk more, walk around at the mall, use the stairs, park farther away and walk."

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December Health Hero: Victoria Braun

Victoria Braun

Victoria Braun is a Health Hero for her commitment to fitness, involvement in the community, and willingness to share fitness opportunities with others. Victoria has fun with fitness by playing on summer softball teams and making walking a social occasion. She also supports others in their fitness efforts.

Another Victoria photo

In the past year, Victoria became a Hot Hula fitness instructor and presents classes at the Anchorage Senior Center and other venues. She also volunteers at the Anchorage Listening Post, a not-for-profit venue supporting people in sharing stories to support their emotional health. Her volunteer activities highlight her grace and willingness to share, and are part of her heroic nature.

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November Health Hero: Todd Aldrich

Todd Aldrich

Todd Aldrich's colleagues at the Ferry Terminal in Valdez describe him as a wonderful employee and an all-around great guy. His change in lifestyle and dedication to healthy diet and exercise really caught their attention. One person wrote "He truly transformed himself by changing his diet and by working out. He is a true model for anyone trying to lose weight and I just hope that I can get on the same track as him."

Todd offers some words of advice when making changes for a healthy lifestyle, "Weight loss is hard work and you'll hit a lot of road blocks along the way, but keep your goal in mind and know you're strong enough to reach that goal."

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October Health Hero: Gail Fenumiai

Gail Fenumiai

As Director of the Division of Elections, Gail Fenumiai is no stranger the pressures of long hours, but that doesn't keep her from incorporating exercise and wellness into her life. By bringing healthy snacks and bagged lunches to the office, she has set an inspiring example for others to make changes to their routines.

As one employee writes, “Gail helps me to stay motivated by showing me different workout routines, changing her schedule so that she can meet me at the gym instead of letting me stay home and, whenever the sun shines here in Juneau, she gets me out power walking on the many beautiful trails that we are blessed with. Gail Fenumiai truly is my Health Hero.”

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