Edie Diel, Jennica Gomez, Jill Stedem, and Michele Cropp are living red these days.

Photos by Anthony Jinson

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease claims the lives of roughly half a million American women each year. The worst part is that most of these deaths can be prevented.

The AHA crafted the Go Red Campaign to do just that. By targeting women specifically, this campaign’s sole purpose is to provide women with the information and tools they need to lead a more active and heart-healthy lifestyle.

In a local effort, Boone Hospital Center teamed up with the American Heart Association to hold the Go Red for Women’s Go Red Challenge in Columbia, a nutrition and fitness program designed to help women “makeover their hearts.” After the application process concluded, 10 women were selected to take part in the challenge. Edie Diel, Jennica Gomez, Jill Stedem, and Michele Cropp were among the finalists.

These women received the tools to start them on the right track, including free health screenings, nutritional planning assistance, and a free three-month gym membership. In addition to the program itself, the women will get the company and motivation of other like-minded ladies pushing them throughout this 12-week program.

“This challenge has been fabulous because we’re all on GroupMe, and everyday someone says something really positive and affirming,” Edie shares (pictured on right below). “I’m motivated when I see a message on GroupMe because I think, ‘If they can do this, I can do this.’”

Edie is no stranger to health issues. Six years ago, at age 60, Edie was diagnosed with celiac disease. Her diagnosis led her to create Dande Delights & Catering, which allows her to use her ‘genetically-gifted’ baking talents to cater for people with food issues or allergies. Because of her already restricted diet, eating well won’t be an issue for Edie. Instead, her main goal is to prioritize exercise.

After reading about the challenge on Veterans United Home Loans’ blog, VU employee Jennica Gomez (pictured below) was eager to apply. Breezing through the application, she had no pauses as the questions delved into her hobbies and objectives. Her only hesitation came when asked about her family’s medical history.

Being adopted made it hard to fill this section out. For Jennica, Go Red is more than just a way to start working out again; because she is unsure of any possible genetic health issues, this is her first preventative step in making sure she stays healthy for her daughters.

“The reason I applied was because of the heart health — I have two little kids and it’s just me. I need to be there for them as they grow. So I wanted to get on track with that,” she explains.

Conversely, Jill Stedem (pictured below) has always known the health problems that potentially lie ahead for her. In 2006, she lost her mom and brother to heart disease. Applying was an effort to both honor her family and overcome her health history. Her challenge is finding time.

“It’s a real challenge to balance work and your personal life, especially when you’re in a busy position,” says Jill, the administrative services director at OATS, a transportation service. “When I started in 2012, I had just come off a Weight Watchers program where I had lost a lot of weight. Then I got busy, and most meetings or events served food. I’m behind the computer all day, so I put the weight back on really quickly.”

Michele (pictured below) also understands how work can affect health. She lost her mother to a massive heart attack 14 years ago, and she’s been on blood pressure medicine since she was 26. Michele admits that her inactivity was beginning to affect her life, and she was going down the same path as her mother.

“Work–life balance is super important to me, and I think that’s why I haven’t made time for exercise,” Michele says. “I work a lot, so when I was done at work, I really wanted to rush home and be with my family.”

Before the challenge, Michele admits she had very little activity: “I have a desk job for the most part, so my exercise happened when I got home, and consisted of a few trips up and down my stairs and walking around the house. I had no planned activity.”

For Edie, she found her biggest barrier to exercise was overscheduling. She said “yes” too much. While most of her time was spent with her businesses, consulting, or watching her grandson, the rest was spent helping whenever she was asked or doing whatever was needed.

“I have a lot of trouble making exercise a priority,” Edie says. “If someone says come, I go. So I need some balance and to be able to say, ‘No, I’m exercising right now,’” she says.

For Jennica, work doesn’t seem to be the problem — the 30-year-old has learned how to keep her work and life separate — but all the single mom’s spare time is spent on her daughters.

“I can keep work at work, but when I’m home, it’s my family time,” Jennica says. “After work, it depends on whether we go to the pool or the park. I’m always moving with two kids, but I don’t know if I’m actually being physically active.” Jennica also struggles with nutrition. “I like healthy foods, I just don’t make time to cook them,” she says. “It’s just easier for me to feed my kids and then eat what they’re eating.”

Jill also struggles with eating healthy, especially with her demanding job.

“I do lots of traveling for work, for the most part around the state,” she says. “Being out on the road makes it difficult to find healthy meals, or to find meals that are low in sodium. Even when you’re at any work function there’s always food there, and it is never healthy food. It’s always donuts, cookies, cakes, or bagels.”

But at the end of their very long, tiring, and demanding days, all these women have one thing in common — they want to make the time to transform their lives. This challenge, which officially began mid-June and will end August 28, is requiring the women to whole-heartedly (pun intended) schedule out time and devote energy into including a proper exercise and diet routine in their busy, everyday lives.

For Michele, this has already made a difference.

“Now, I go to yoga two nights a week and to the gym three times a week,” she says. “If I miss the gym, I make sure that I get exercise in at home, whether it’s swimming, walking, or some strength exercises on the floor.”

They’re all going red one step at a time.

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