Fit for Life
Phil and Natalie Lee with sons Thomas (left) and Philip. The Lees make fitness a top priority in their daily schedules.
For some people, the phrase, put your best foot forward means making a good first impression. For others, however, it means putting their best foot forward, then their other foot forward, then their best foot, over and over again until they’ve worked up a sweat.
Many are the benefits of exercising and eating well: improved health, decreased stress, increased confidence and self-esteem, better muscle tone and stronger immune system, more energy. Imagine the multiplied effects when fitness interests are shared by every member of the family.
“Having somebody to exercise with increases the likelihood that you’re actually going to exercise,” says Dr. Steve Greer, a board certified sports and family medicine physician at MCGHealth. “Whenever someone else is committing to do it, you’re more likely to do it.”
Families can provide that accountability and sustain a long-term commitment because they aren’t just interested in today’s workout goal They’re also interested in everyone’s health into the future. The families profiled here are an inspiring example of this philosophy in practice.
The Lee family is on the move. Walks around the neighborhood a few times each week get their hearts pumping. On weekends, the self-named Biker Crew—Phil, Philip and Thomas—pedals along the Augusta Canal while Natalie runs behind. After dinner swims at the Family Y’s indoor lap pool keep them challenging themselves and each other to greater and greater distances. “When I’m exercising with my mom, she keeps on pushing me further,” says Philip, 12. “If we run 3.35 miles, she’ll decide to just go ahead and finish four.” The Lees run together, they play together and inspire each other to discover their true capabilities.
Not so many years ago, however, things were a little more sedentary around the Lee household. But there’s nothing like having children to make a guy take stock of himself—to make him look into the future and imagine all of the possibilities his lifetime holds. And there’s nothing like a physician telling him that lifetime might not be as long as hoped for to make a guy do some real soul searching.
In his 30s, Phil Lee saw no reason to spend much time at the gym. After all, 30-something isn’t so old. At least that’s what he thought until he received some surprising news, along with admonitions, from his doctor. A diagnosis of high cholesterol alerted Phil that it was high time to change his habits. Not one to dawdle, he focused, went full-throttle and never looked back. Taking advantage of his workplace wellness program, which pays his Y membership, Phil began a regimen of lifting weights and working out on the elliptical machine a minimum of four times a week.
Now 45, Phil’s days start, and often end, with a good workout. “I consider it to be one of the highest priorities of my week,” he says. He isn’t alone. Wife, Natalie, 39, who started running in her 20s, is also an exercise buff, more active than ever. Each day for her includes running, spinning, swimming or weight training or some combination of those.
Natalie and Phil believe so ardently in the health benefits of an active lifestyle that they also encourage Philip and 9-year-old Thomas to give fitness primacy over other activities, like watching television or playing video games. Yet, Natalie and Phil don’t just give it lip service. Natalie says, “Committing as a family is important. I think it would be hard if just one of us did this. The support and understanding may not be there.” They are role-modeling positive health behaviors and they engage Philip and Thomas in a range of exercise outlets, creating a desire to incorporate physical fitness into their lives.
But maintaining a high level of weekly physical exercise isn’t easy. Demands of work and school and the activities of daily life put pressure on schedules. Natalie and Phil cope with time constraints by blocking out exercise time on their calendars just as they would an appointment. They plan everything else around it. Furthermore, weekends, with fewer obligations, are prime time for the family of four to get out into the fresh air. Natalie says, “I do believe that if you really, really want to be healthy and commit to fitness, you can find the time.”
And if you find the time, you’ll reap the rewards. Phil is living proof. Today, his cholesterol is under control without medication, and he expects it to stay that way. The Lee family, bolstered by the example of Phil’s father, a very healthy 72-year-old who has exercised his whole life, all agree that the habits they develop now will carry them through the rest of their lives—as will the benefits of health and longevity. It’s like Natalie says, “You have to keep your body moving to keep it moving for a long time.”
Tennis, tennis, tennis, the Chamberlains are all about tennis. The three boys, Mark, 12, Noah, 14, and Drew, 15, all play competitively year-round. At 46, Caroline plays CSRA Women’s Tennis through Petersburg Racquet Club. Sherman, a 44-year-old gastroenterologist at MCGHealth, plays tennis on the weekends with a group of men and has played CSRA Men’s Tennis in the past. Caroline says, “The boys are well-rounded when it comes to sports, but tennis is the one [sport] they seem to continue to enjoy. And tennis is a lifelong sport that they can still do when they’re 84.” Drew agrees. “I think I’ll play tennis my whole life.”
Caroline and Sherman got their boys involved in tennis at early ages. When Drew and Noah were ages 3 and 18 months, respectively, Caroline and Sherman would take them to the public tennis courts near their home in New York. As the boys got older, they enrolled in summer clinics at the Port Washington Tennis Academy. Mark joined them on the courts when he was old enough.
Then about six years ago, the Chamberlains moved to Augusta. Their real estate agent showed them several houses, but the one they settled on had a tennis court in the backyard. Initially, the court was used as what Caroline calls an “all sport court.” She says, “The boys make a game of everything.” Within a couple of years, however, they were using it for tennis lessons and practice.
This family’s fitness destiny was set in motion many years prior to those public courts in New York. Caroline’s first encounter with Sherman, who started running at age eight after watching the Denver Marathon, was when he was running the Boston Marathon (he has completed it six times). Six months later, they were officially introduced. And Sherman is still very much engaged in serious exercise—waking up at 4:30 a.m. to go to the MCGHealth gym. Caroline laughs, “Sherman works out like a maniac and he’s got a reputation for it.”
Drew, Noah and Mark have their father’s determination. They play in tennis tournaments on the weekends, practice during the week, attend clinics and take lessons regularly. Although she occasionally goes out to the court to return serves, Caroline admits she and Sherman don’t hit with the boys as much as they did in the past, mostly because Drew, Noah and Mark have surpassed them in skill. Still, the boys appreciate their parents’ support. Mark says, “They want me to do well. They want to push me to the limits of what I can do. But if we try our hardest and still lose, they’ll be fine with that.”
This attitude toward their children’s successes and failures on the tennis court is probably a reflection of their belief that tennis is more than just a game. Because of the game’s one-on-one nature and the restrictions against talking with coaches or parents during play, a player has to be his own coach, line judge, referee, equipment manager and score keeper. Independence and assertiveness are developed and whetted.
“One of the reasons Sherman and I like tennis so much,” says Caroline, “is that it’s like chess. You have to think ahead about where you’re going to place your next shot. You have to keep up with the score in your head. It engages your brain while you’re playing. It improves focus.” For the Chamberlains, tennis isn’t simply a pursuit of physical fitness. Tennis teaches sportsmanship and self-reliance and also sharpens the intellect.
The Avrett Family
For every family the impetus to get up and get moving is different. The Avrett family’s journey toward a healthier lifestyle began when Anna, now age 51, had an epiphany after her mother’s death from cancer in June of 2005. It occurred to her that the products her skin comes into contact with, like lotions and shampoos, could impact her overall health. Wanting to do something preventative for herself and her family, she evaluated the kinds of skin and hair products they all used on a daily basis. “What you put on yourself is huge,” she says. “It goes right into your skin.”
While they went along with replacing lotions and shampoos with natural products, the rest of the family, husband David, 17-year-old daughter Holley and 15-year-old twins Alex and Bailey, did not feel the same urge for a lifestyle change at the time. “It’s something we evolved into as a family,” says Anna. And although they now focus on fitness together, each individual had to find what works for him or her. “But doing it as a family,” she says, “you have that accountability every day.”
Anna’s motivation also had another source: She wanted to help herself and her children, particularly daughter Bailey, address their weight issues. Over the summer of 2005, she enrolled the kids in Kath Engler’s Run With Art Camp, which helped, but Anna knew more could be done. Nutrition was the next battlefront. In the spring of 2006, Anna initiated weekly phone consultations with Sheri Lynn Foster, a certified personal trainer and lifestyle/weight management consultant who created the Lifestyle Transformation system. Soon Bailey participated in the conversations as well.
Recommendations for diet change were simple at first and proceeded incrementally toward healthier eating habits. Both she and Bailey quit going to fast-food restaurants and cut out soft drinks. They added more fruits and vegetables to their diets and switched from white bread to whole wheat. They ate fresh foods instead of processed ones. Anna says that as she instituted each new suggestion and educated herself about food and nutrition, she and Bailey lost weight. “I started reading labels. I started really thinking about it.”
Over the course of two years in consultation with Foster, Anna and Bailey saw results. Though Holley adopted some of the new eating habits, David and Alex were not on board with the girls. Even Anna decided that she and her family could not sustain such a rigorously restrictive diet. Keeping many of the doable aspects of Foster’s advice, she decided to settle in a place between the extremes.
Then in January 2009, it all came together and so did the Avrett family. After seeing the success close friends had experienced by participating in the Family Y’s Team Lean competition, Anna talked David, Alex and Bailey into signing up with her. Though Holley didn’t participate because she didn’t have enough weight to lose, she says, “I still did my own thing, like run or play tennis.”
Up until Team Lean, Alex and David had held back in opposition to the women in the house. They both adamantly say that Team Lean was the turning point for them. Thinking back on the 12 weeks, and all the hours his family spent at the gym together and all of the nutritional changes he made, Alex says, “I was all in. I was serious.” Through their commitment as a family, they won the Team Lean competition in 2009 and then again in 2010 (the 2010 team included Holley, but not Alex).
One of the biggest benefits they got from the experience, says Anna, is “we really learned the role exercise plays.” Holley recalls how great she felt after running on the treadmill for an hour and her sense of accomplishment and pride when she pushed her limits. Beyond these most impressive achievements, there’s a new can-do attitude in the Avrett house. David says, “Alex helps me if I’m doing something wrong [such as not eating well or getting enough exercise].” Alex adds, “Now, I don’t like to be out of shape.”
Holley looks at her sister Bailey and her mother and says, “If it wasn’t for y’all getting all of the bad stuff out of the house, well...It’s so good to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see.”
“It was hard,” says Bailey, who still struggles with her weight. With her family not just behind her, but with her every step, however, she has the support she needs to help her stick with the Avretts’ focus on fitness.
The Right Fit
It’s only natural that an active lifestyle has been embraced by the Hadden boys, all of whom have run competitively at some point. “When Blake and Brent came along, [running] was part of our lifestyle,” says Emily, 43, who also enters youngest son Carter, 5, in Tot Trots from time to time. Emily’s father, who has always been a runner, encouraged her interest in the sport when she was in high school. She really latched on to it, running cross country for Augusta State University, later joining the University of Georgia’s cross-country team as a walk-on. She’s passed on her enthusiasm to husband Joey, 42, whom she trained and ran with in the New York marathon in 1999, and to their children.
Both Emily and Joey know, however, that imposing their own interests on their children can backfire. While Emily introduced the boys to the thrill of distance running and Joey exposed them to the challenges of golf, they’ve encouraged their sons to participate in a variety of team and individual sports. Blake, 16, and Brent, 12, have played football, basketball and soccer, and Carter, just getting old enough to play organized sports, enjoys T-ball and basketball. Experimenting with athletics that fall outside of “traditional” endeavors is supported as well. Blake has earned his brown belt in tae kwon do and Brent has recently taken up go-cart racing.
Drawing on their experiences, along with the support of their parents, Blake and Brent have individually identified their one activity that brings the greatest satisfaction. So much so that it could be described as a passion. Blake cannot imagine a day in which he doesn’t swing a golf club. Brent wears his running shoes like his own skin.
Even so, pursuing a passion takes hard work and dedication. It takes stick-with-it-ness. It takes striving to reach the next level. So the Haddens set goals. Serious goals. Emily, who has run four marathons to date, has Brent training with her for Nashville’s Country Music Half-Marathon in April. Blake practices golf five days a week, takes lessons, attends clinics and plays in tournaments as he works toward earning a collegiate golf scholarship. Joey will compete in the ESi Ironman 70.3 triathalon, his first, in Augusta later this year. Serious, serious goals.
Despite their ardor, despite their dedication, the Haddens are not an intense bunch. There’s an easiness in their presence. Relaxed laughter and gregarious interaction are constant. Brent ribs his dad about the triathalon, saying, “I think you can do it Dad,” then promising, with a huge grin, “I’m going to be like S.J. from The Blind Side.” They all crack up.
Emily says this is a fringe benefit of staying active. In addition to practicing discipline and relishing accomplishments, they profit from a huge reduction in stress levels—something every busy family can use. “And it’s fun,” says Brent. Yes, don’t forget the fun, an all too often overlooked perk naturally embraced by the very active Hadden boys.