November 17, 2014

What if your child had a stroke in the fourth grade?

You read correctly.

Fourth grade.

It happened to Erica Singleton, 35, of southeastern Michigan.

But she doesn't want your pitty.

Nor does she need it.

Erica is doing far more to better her health than a lot of us, as a matter of fact, and we would all do well to take a page from her book.

More on that in a moment.

Allow me to set the stage first...

So tis the season to eat, indulge, and splurge to our heart's (and taste buds') content.

And less than two months from now, we will literally be bombarded with commercials for gym memberships, juicers, and everything else that can help create a leaner, meaner -- healthier -- version of ourselves.

But here's a novel idea: What if we could get on the good foot right now so that when the New Year rolls around, we'll be where we want to be health-wise instead of making plans to get there.

That's precisely what the American Heart Association's Better U Challenge is designed to do: The 12-week challenge, which concludes January 24, aims to improve participants' heart health through various exercise classes and educational workshops. Better U initiative is a joint venture between AHA and St. John Providence Health System.

I'm delighted to have been chosen by the American Heart Association to serve as one of their 2015 Go Red for Women bloggers, and this post is my first in a series that will feature stories meant to motivate, educate, and, ultimately, help all of us become our very best.

And few stories can inspire us like Erica's. She recently joined the Better U program to lose weight and strengthen her arm movement. 

I had the great fortune of meeting Erica in person recently -- she and I are pictured above with Melissa Thrasher (left), the Communications Director of the American Heart Association's Midwest Affiliate (Erica is on the right); and I can tell you two things: One, Erica is one of the most positive people I have ever had the pleasure of conversing with; and two, she is committed to this challenge. Here is her journey -- in her own words:

1.       I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like to endure all that you have. Briefly explain the extent of the physical damage you incurred due to the stroke.
I still have limited range of motion in my right arm; I’ve had seven surgeries on my right foot – and I still have drop foot. I actually live in heels because it’s easier for me to walk. Also, my muscles just tense up out of nowhere sometimes. And with regards to the muscles in my face, my smile is corrected now, but before my smile was a little twisted. I love to smile, I’m a very happy person, and I’ve always been a big smiler. I’ve always wanted to keep that part of me.

2.       I’m sure that what you went through emotionally was arguably just as bad – if not worse, no?
I can still remember it like it was yesterday – and it was particularly difficult because I knew what life was like when I was just like everybody else. I could remember what it felt like to ride a bike, climb trees, etc…I got lonely; I was sad; and I was definitely angry. There’s a feeling of being trapped inside your own body because you know what you want to do, but your body won’t participate. But, emotionally…it was very hard to make friends – I was 10 years old! I still don’t know anyone who has had a stroke at that age. I had no one to talk to; no one to confide in. I could go to groups and talk to older people – the typical people one would expect to have a stroke. But there was no one that I could actually communicate with, and talk about school to…I was so alone. But there was a bit of self-growth that had to happen. Your self-esteem and self-worth have to be rebuilt.

3.       How did you become familiar with the Better U challenge, and what inspired you to sign on?
I filled out a survey from the American Heart Association online, and they asked what I wanted to get involved in, and I told them I was a survivor – and then I was invited to share my story. And then Melissa [Melissa Thrasher, who serves as Communications Director of the American Heart Association, Midwest Affiliate] told me about the challenge, I submitted my documents, and here we are.

4.       Talk about your journey thus far…do you feel like you’re on a different path now?
I definitely am: Now, the first thing I want to do is go for a run – I don’t care how cold it is; I don’t care how wet it is; I don’t care if my hair gets ruined. I just want to run! And I want to make sure breakfast, lunch, and dinner are planned. That is a big difference for me because I’ve never really planned those meals. I put more thought into what I eat, how I eat it, and what times of the day I eat it.

5.       What do you anticipate will be your greatest source of strength and support during this 12-week journey?
The fact that I’ll fit back into my clothing – that’s always a plus! And also that, through the platform of the American Heart Association, I can let other people know that if I can do it, anyone can do it. Eighty percent of strokes are preventable – and I don’t think anyone should have to go through this alone.

6.       What do you ultimately hope to achieve from participating in this challenge?
One of my personal goals is to help the world realize that a stroke can happen at any point in life, and it’s not just something that is reserved for the elderly. And I hope to bring awareness to the fact that if it happens, you can beat it. If you know the symptoms and signs, you can easily save somebody’s life.

7.       What is your message to others, to those who may be on the fence about committing to this challenge?
It can only get better. And there’s no better time than right now. By committing to this challenge, it’ll benefit you so much, it’ll impact so much of your life – it has already done that for me. We are stronger than we think we are.


Better U challenge applicants are encouraged to take a short assessment here to receive their starting heart score and then register online here and select ‘Go Red’ for access to free classes and personal improvement sessions with life coaches and health experts.  

The American Heart Association recommends incorporating a balanced diet and obtaining at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to improve heart health. 

Along the way, individuals are encouraged to post their before and new-me-in-progress photos using the hashtag #MIBetterU on Twitter or Facebook

Click here to check out the holiday giveaways we're hosting!

A NOTE ABOUT MY POST SCHEDULE: Between blogging for the NFL, USA Football, and wiping the noses and behinds of two little ones, I have decided that it is in the best interest of my sanity (and this blog) to dial back a bit. Therefore, I will now publish new posts here 
every Monday and Thursday, come rain or shine. 
(And I'm Type-A, so you know you can hold me to this.) 
Thanks for your understanding. xo 
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  1. As women we are sometimes so focused on others health and wellnesss we forget about our own and that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.
    Erica is thankfully on the right track- keep it up and stay positive!

    1. Oh my goodness, Ellen, thank you for sharing this comment. I absolutely could not agree with you more...

      You hit the nail on the head: We as women tend to put ourselves last -- it kind of reminds me of the spiel we hear from airline stewards: Secure your own mask before you assist others with theirs. Because after all: We are most capable for caring for other when we ourselves are healthiest.

      Thank you, really, for visiting today.


  2. I loved reading Erica's interview. Her bravery and determination are inspiring. Thanks for sharing her story with us.

    1. Thank you, Lexa; my pleasure. I had SUCH a fabulous time interviewing her over the phone...and then meeting her in person several days later. Her energy and positivity are infectious...

      Have a wonderful week ahead...


  3. "It can only get better. And there’s no better time than right now." I really loved this line... it's so true and yet we tend to forget that over and over. That should be one of those inspirational memes...

    1. Thank you, Dakota! Wasn't it inspiring? I hope Erica returns to this post again to see your lovely comment...