Tell us about your journey from a UA student to successful corporate wellness professional?
I was at UA in the late '90s and I am a second generation Wildcat. Both of my parents and one of my sisters also graduated from there, and my other sister currently works at UA. We are heavily steeped in the Wildcat tradition, so it was a no brainer that that’s where I would go to college! I was an athlete my whole life, continuing into high school and community college before I came to the UA. It was a natural fit for me to study for a career that enabled me to provide awareness and support to others seeking to be fit, live healthfully and be their best.
I initially thought I would do that in the field of sports psychology, so I majored in psychology with a minor in exercise sciences. The experiential part of my career in fitness and wellness began during that same time with my job working at the UA rec center. I learned how to provide excellent customer service, create opportunities for people to engage in physical activity and how to manage fitness facilities. I still use these skills every day.
After I graduated, I continued to graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in sports psychology at the University of North Texas. At UNT, the sports psych program fell under the broader kinesiology program umbrella, so from that curriculum I gained a lot more experience and education in various facets of the fitness and wellness field, including corporate wellness which is the field I am in today. When I finished my master’s degree, I knew I was ready for the career world. With my combined degrees in kinesiology, exercise science and psychology, coupled with my continued time working in campus recreation at the University of North Texas, I was able to exit school directly into a role managing a children’s fitness center. Our focus there was improving children’s motor skills, confidence and overall physical development. After a few years, I moved into corporate wellness with EXOS in 2005 and managed onsite employee fitness centers for many years.
As senior director of account management for EXOS, my current role entails working with corporate clients throughout the U.S. and Canada to provide solutions and strategic guidance to create and deploy effective employee fitness and wellness programs. Every day, I utilize my education and background in fitness, human behavior and customer service to creatively problem solve and build solid relationships with clients on behalf of EXOS. We are working to upgrade lives of each participant we encounter every day, which is an extremely gratifying thing to focus on.
What is challenging and rewarding about your position?
When I describe what I do to people, the reaction that I most often get is “oh wow, that sounds like a really fun job!” It is extremely rewarding; I feel fortunate to be in the role that I am and there are certainly many fun days. However, there are some challenging, and sometimes even frustrating, components of a chosen career in health and wellness. In the U.S., we have an epidemic of unhealthy people and behaviors. The professional wellness field is larger than it’s ever been because there is a real need for more professionals, yet we are continuing to lose traction on improving our population’s overall health. We are, in fact, getting less healthy by the year. We have an army of health, fitness and wellness professionals, and I am one of them, out there working to connect with individuals to provide a supportive, motivating and accessible environment that arms people with the tools to make the healthiest decisions they can. There are many factors that contribute to one’s ability to improve her or his overall health. However, the reality is that many of us have access and the ability to be able to make healthy decisions, but many of us still opt not to. This can feel challenging at times in our profession.
One of the most fulfilling things that I can imagine is being able to help people to be healthier. When I was a practitioner and working one-on-one with individuals in fitness centers, to see their positive progress and know you’ve been able to support that, there’s nothing like it. I’ve been so fortunate in my career to have many days working with individuals or clients when success is realized and true progress is made. In my role today as I work with clients, my fulfillment and connection to helping people is still the same but on a broader scale. When I’ve supported a strategy that was launched for an employee population that reached people and positively impacted their overall health, it’s exceptionally rewarding.
What advice do you have for Wildcats looking to be healthier in the workplace?
One of the ways that I always position things to our clients is to evaluate how easy (or difficult) it is to make healthy choices in the workplace environment. As you look around, are you providing encouragement for people to park far away and get extra steps walking to the building (and are there covered walkways for those that do)? Are you providing nudges for people to choose stairs instead of elevators? Are those staircases hidden and hard to find, or visible and well-lit? What food choices are offered to employees? What is the default preparation? Is it served fried and you have to ask for grilled, or is it grilled and you have to ask for it fried? Is it the norm to serve donuts or fruit during meetings? Do you provide break rooms, and do you actually encourage people to take mental breaks to relax and refocus? It’s important to offer choice, but we can nudge people towards the healthier alternatives very easily.
There are easy opportunities to stand up at your desk, take short walks and stretch or move even when seated. I know it’s pretty hot in Tucson so taking a long walk outside doesn’t sound that appealing in the summer but even a little bit of activity can make a big difference. Notice your energy levels throughout the day. Are you choosing snacks that increase energy and focus or create a short sugar rush followed by a crash? Are you pausing throughout the day to breathe deeply every now and then? Do you get enough sleep so you are recharged every day? Are you drinking water… all day? Every little choice you make adds up. So even if you can’t visit the rec center to work out every day, seek out small parts of your day to move and pay attention to each decision you make to be healthier. If you begin to recognize how many opportunities you have each day to be just a little healthier, you’d be surprised how much impact you can create.
What do you do for fun?
I love to take yoga classes and stay active by running, lifting, taking spin classes, stretching, etc. My husband and I love to travel and I like to garden as well. And, of course, I root on all Wildcat teams!