Jackson’s wellness underdogs unleashed

By on April 23, 2015
ILLUSTRATION BY KELLY HALPIN

ILLUSTRATION BY KELLY HALPIN

Couch to 5K inspires new breed of fitness warriors

We’ve all been there, looking at those running shoes sitting next to the door, the dog wondering if today is the day we’re going to start — I mean really start — running or hiking or practicing yoga or Pilates or maybe, and quite simply, just walking.

It’s the hardest, but most important step: that first step. And for many people in Jackson, every step forward is better than no step at all. Let’s face it: some of us will never be dangling from a rappel line on top of the Grand with a pair of skies strapped to our feet — and that’s OK.

“Officially, this will be my first 5K,” said Rosa Montano. “I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Yep. A first 5K. And how about Leesa Smith, a school bus driver for Teton County School District No. 1? She’s walking to work now. And Faith Johnson? She just gave birth to her third child and has her sights set on not only the Spring Runoff 5K, but maybe a longer race, a marathon relay perhaps.

“This is an invisible population,” said Scott “Smitty” Smith, founder of One to One Wellness in Jackson. “They get lost in this super-active community. It’s an intimidating area, but being healthy is super doable.”

This May, a group of “invisibles” will complete what they doubted in their minds for a long time. Using the St. John’s “Couch to 5K” program through the Wellness Center and in partnership with One to One, Montano, Smith, Johnson and many more will cross the Spring Runoff 5K finish line for the first time. And in many ways this finish line just may be the start to a lifetime of healthy changes.

“I hope there is a finish line banner because I want that picture,” said Montano, a financial navigator at St. John’s Medical Center. “It will be the beginning, not the end, for me.”

Healthy by way of wellness

There is a quote board in Montano’s office and on Wednesday it read: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can, Arthur Ashe.”

“This is all about team spirit and in the end, think of how much more wonderful your heart will feel,” Montano said. “Ask: Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you want to see your nieces and nephews grow up? This life is not a dress rehearsal, this is it.”

A community health assessment has been drafted for Teton County, but has not yet been released to the public. In anticipation of that guiding document, Julia Heemstra, director for the Wellness Department at St. John’s Medical Center, said Jackson is in many ways a lot like the rest of the nation when it comes to health issues despite our penchant for extreme feats of athleticism. “We know that access to health care is a prioritized health risk,” said Heemstra, who worked with multiple agencies to draft the countywide health assessment. “Cost is also a barrier to care when it comes to doctor’s visits. That’s an area that we as a Wellness Center are addressing.”

The hospital’s wellness program will ultimately save families and taxpayers money by preventing diseases, she said.

“From a national perspective we will see more and more pressure coming from the federal government, health insurance and employers to create environments that help people make better choices for themselves,” Heemstra said. “We know that some of the pandemics we are looking at in this country are very effectually addressed with wellness programs such as Type II Diabetes, any kind of cardiovascular disease, obesity — all of those are conditions that can be helped by getting active.”

So, for the first time, the St. John’s Wellness Center is working in conjunction with Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation to host its annual health fair this spring. This purposeful move will bring together two public agencies whose work promotes wellness efforts in the county. With the Wellness Center’s desire to empower people to make better, healthier choices and parks and rec’s love of the game, May 2 just might be the day you take that first step, too.

Such will be the case for Montano.

“I’m having a mental and spiritual awaking to remain more focused on being healthy,” Montano said. “It’s not about looking good it’s about being healthy and being grateful for my efforts.”

Montano has been the unabashed team leader for the Couch to 5K. Her motivation, like many others, is deeply personal. Last year, she moved from California to Jackson. It was a major step to inspire her out of a rut, she said. Her father bought her a juicer out of concern for her health and, waving goodbye, she told him that she would be 50 pounds lighter when she sees him in Wyoming.

“I wanted to be healthy before he died and like a child I would think, ‘don’t tell me what to do. I’m fine, you know?’” she said. “He bought me a NutriBullet and said, ‘Do your smoothies and you will lose weight.’ I remember saying, ‘I’ll see you out in Wyoming,’ and he said, ‘I’ll see you out there.’”

Montano’s father fell ill shortly after. She tended to her father who died a few weeks later. Before her father died she had lost 42 pounds.

“It’s personal because this is for my father and it’s really for me,” Montano said. “This is my personal journey. My goal is that I want to wear a twirling dress in the Tetons, like the one from The Sound of Music, and say that, ‘I have arrived,’” she said. So she signed up for her first 5K through the Couch to 5K program.

Smith’s journey is just as personal. The grandmother of three said she received Heemstra’s invitation for the Couch to 5K program and jumped at the chance to get stronger.

“I’m the type of person who loves to be outdoors,” said Smith, who moved to Jackson from Idaho Falls more than 30 years ago. “I don’t do any extreme sports and I can’t run a marathon. This is a very athletic community. I’m not a super athlete and I’m not highly competitive, but I want to be right there with them enjoying the outdoors and being in better shape. I’m not going to be the one skiing off a black diamond, but I really want to keep up with my kids and grandkids. As my boss had told me once, ‘This is athletic town and if you’re not, you’re are an outsider.’ I’m not an outsider, but this is my way of being my own athlete.” Smith reports that since attending the Wellness Center’s walking classes, a course designed to teach everyone and anyone how to walk (and run) without injury, that she is walking to work now.

“It’s to the point where I walked to work and back, three and a half miles each way, that’s something I can do now,” she said.

Good timing

Heemstra couldn’t be more excited to watch and cheer on the weeks of practice and patience of those participating in the Couch to 5K program. “From it’s inception four years ago, this has been a program that was accessible for people of all athletic capabilities,” Heemstra said. “This is the full spectrum of health and not just a better fit for people who are already making decisions on behalf of their wellness. The subprograms were really designed to target a population that, at times, is not as active as the rest of the community.”

The team from St. John’s Medical Center (from left to right): Rosa Montano, Janitra Cooper, Cristy Liaw, Wellness Center director Julia Heemstra, Faith Johnson and Jackie Joyner. (Photo: Jeannette Boner)

The team from St. John’s Medical Center (from left to right): Rosa Montano, Janitra Cooper, Cristy Liaw, Wellness Center director Julia Heemstra, Faith Johnson and Jackie Joyner. (Photo: Jeannette Boner)

Partnering with Scott Smith, the Wellness Center developed the Couch to 5K program. The response was overwhelming, Heemstra said. With Scott Smith teaching walking classes and stretching clinics that fill up in a matter of an hour, the Wellness Center is working with teams at the hospital as well as in Teton County School District No. 1.

“The focus has been on people who have never run a race before,” she said. “We developed a program that starts at square one, moment one. I don’t know anyone who took a look at this program and said he couldn’t do it. I’ve had a couple of interactions with people who said they couldn’t do a 5K, but they looked at this program and said, ‘I can do that.’”

The secret recipe? Time, not distance, Scott Smith said.

“We are very comfortable and familiar with time,” he said. “You can go for a 20-mile ride on a road bike, but what does that mean to this population? For someone to go out for a 20-minute walk, now that is doable. That’s the amount of time it takes me to get to work.”

The first workout started on March 22 with a 10-minute walk, then a one-minute run and a two-minute walk repeated four times and then a 10-minute walk to finish. The final work out just before the Spring Runoff will include a 10-minute walk followed by a six-minute run and one-minute walk repeated four times and finished with another 10-minute walk.

“The first step is just getting up and moving,” Scott Smith said. “In my opinion, movement stimulates thought and emotion, which stimulates the soul and spirit of our beings.”

That said, it’s important not to get overwhelmed with any new program. Take it one step at a time, he said.

“The program resonates with me because it reaches a population that can benefit from it the most,” Scott Smith said. “This is a very personal journey and where you are going to start is where you are. If you are at a 10-minute walk, then that is where you are. That’s what I love about the idea of time. It allows people to start where they are.” Johnson agrees.

“For most moms, and for sure me, you want to get back to you,” admitted Johnson, a mother of three and revenue cycle supervisor for St. John’s. “For me, I haven’t done anything for a year. I was inactive and didn’t feel good during my pregnancy. I thought, ‘I’m doing more than I was yesterday.’”

Faith said that before she had her third child she started running with a friend and enjoyed it. But, she injured herself in a relay race and hung up her running shoes until after her third baby was born. While she started some strength training, the Couch to 5K was a good motivation to start running again, and learning how to run through the hospital’s walking courses. “It was all about feeling your own body and not pushing yourself too far,” she said. “I work full-time and I will try to run every day. I try to finish as I can — you don’t need to be crazy. I think that the biggest thing to remember is that this is for you and it’s for fun. You are only pushing for yourself.”
And of course, there is a small carrot at the end of a longer finish line. For those who complete the Spring Runoff, the Run and Ride for the Cure, Shirley’s Heart Run and Old Bill’s Fun Run — all races that benefit St. John’s Medical Center this summer — their names will be entered to win a $250 gift certificate from Skinny Skis.

“I love encouraging my co-workers,” Montano said. “There is safety in numbers and there is power in numbers. And misery loves company. I’m taking baby steps and my goal is to be able to say I finished. I don’t care if I’m the very last one …  This first step will catapult me to the next 5K. “And I want to do all of the races,” she added. “I want to get the gift certificate.”

Nuts and bolts

The 2015 Health Fair will be held at the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center on May 2. The event will include free health screenings for adults and children, all-day access to the pool, a bike rodeo, health information booths, demonstration classes and complimentary snacks.

Nearly 100 booth vendors will provide information about various health-related topics, and free screenings for vision, concussions, blood pressure, skin cancer, and cognitive and orthopedic health. St. John’s medical providers will also be available to interpret results from wellness blood screenings. Wellness blood screening registration forms and instructions, and info on scheduling appointments are available online at TetonHospital.org/BloodScreen.

The Jackson Hole Spring Runoff 5K (formerly known as the Mother’s Day 5K) will be held in conjunction with the Health Fair.

The Spring Runoff will be an out-and-back on the pathway north of town, with parking available at the Home Ranch lot. Start time is 8:30 a.m. for walkers and 9 a.m. for runners, and pre-registered participants can pick up bibs at the Home Ranch lot beginning at 7:45 a.m.

St. John’s is underwriting discounted early registration entry fee: entries received by 3 p.m. on May 1 are $10; race day registration is $25. The entry fee includes a race souvenir and refreshments. Registration forms are available at Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation or St. John’s. For more info, visit TetonParksandRec.org.

For information on the Health Fair, visit TetonHospital.org or call St. John’s Wellness, 307-739-7466.

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