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The City Journals

Taylorsville High’s Harwood named heart challenge winner

Feb 07, 2019 02:12PM ● By City Journals Staff

Corner Canyon High’s Mindy Wilder and Taylorsville High’s Kevin Harwood came away with most improved and overall winner titles, respectively, in the teacher 2018 My Heart Challenge. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

After 100 days, Taylorsville High School teacher Kevin Harwood was given a sash and a crown as the overall winner of the 2018 My Heart Challenge. Fourteen high school teachers from across the Salt Lake Valley participated.

However, all the teachers say they were winners in improving their own health.

Harwood, who teaches English, received a $1,000 check earmarked to be used at the school. He hopes to use it for more copies of “The Jungle,” which he had students read this year and talk about prepared and processed foods.

“We examined both sides of the issues,” Harwood said. 

Learning about meat packaging was “cool,” according to Taylorsville High student body vice president and senior Nephi Williams, who attended the ceremony along with student body president and senior Daniel Fairbourn.

“We all took an interest in Mr. Harwood’s challenge and saw the positive impact he was making in his life and gave students the motivation to become healthy themselves,” Fairbourn said. “He’d make fun assignments where we would move around in his class and healthy food to share so we’d be more energetic.”

About 500 Taylorsville High students also listened to a Cornell University professor, whom Harwood arranged to come to classes and speak about the ethics of farming, protecting the forests and environment, and heart disease associated with a red meat diet.

Harwood decided to take part in the challenge to be a more active grandfather.

“For me, participating in the challenge was a wake-up call,” Harwood said. “It got me thinking about what I’m doing and how it takes time to develop healthy habits.”

Before the contest, Harwood admits he developed poor habits after running the 1994 St. George Marathon. He would eat weekly at a Mexican restaurant and would turn on Netflix instead of hitting a treadmill and eating fruits and vegetables.

“I learned valuable information that transformed my life,” he said, adding that his family also participated, including the family dog, Daisy, who took him on 4-mile daily walks.

Harwood’s wife, Karen, said her husband was committed to his new health plan, with a long-range goal of meeting 10,000 steps.

“He’d help shop for food, make sure we cooked it healthy and just adapted a healthier lifestyle,” she said.

Principal Emme Liddell said she was proud of Harwood.

“He took it seriously, working hard to become healthier, and set an example for those around him to change their lifestyle,” she said. “He had conversations with students about making the commitment to become healthier.”

Through the program, all the teachers received individual coaching and counseling from heart experts at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, talking to exercise specialists, dietitians, counselors and cardiologists. They were introduced to various exercises, which they might not be familiar with, from yoga to boxing, and participated in weekly health assessments.

Together, they exercised 46,194 minutes and lost 212 pounds. Their cholesterol levels decreased 14 percent, while their triglycerides dropped 32 percent. Through an increase of 18 percent of aerobic fitness, their body fat went down 19 percent.

In Granite School District, Julia O’Discoll of Skyline High also took part in the challenge.

The most improved award went to Mindy Wilder, of Corner Canyon High in Draper, who also received $1,000 for her school, along with a sash and crown. During the 100 days, she lost 44 pounds.

Wilder not only got her physical education students and volleyball team to participate, but she also introduced yoga to nearby Crescent Elementary in Sandy in early November, getting six classes of third- and fourth-graders to become active.

“Everything I learned, I took back to my ninth-grade class, including nutrition and exercise logs,” Wilder said. “They made a lot of progress. The volleyball team was very engaged and preferred fruit and vegetables over snack foods. The elementary kids became more flexible as they learned something new. I learned little things that will make a lifetime change for me.”

Other teachers shared what they learned to their classes and schools. Pepper Poulsen, at Bingham High in South Jordan, involved students, who performed a rap at the awards ceremony. 

At Jordan High in Sandy, Nicole Manwaring, who biked to work, had her school participate in tracking steps as well as having chef program students at the school prepare a healthy meal in December. She even got the preschoolers to learn to exercise while learning their letters, said Principal Wendy Dau.

Murray High’s Keeko Georgelas worked with their school’s culinary arts students to hold a fundraiser dinner for heart research for Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, which could help pay living expenses for families of patients undergoing heart transplants.

“I hope it becomes an annual event,” he said. “This impacted my life as well as students and faculty at Murray.”

Kristina Kimble, of Alta High in Sandy, said it was easier knowing other teachers also were committed to the program.

“I can email or talk to any of these teachers and know that we will continue to be supportive of one another,” she said. “It’s not over; it’s a lifetime commitment. We all succeeded in becoming healthier, so we all won.”