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'Get Healthy' challenge makes lasting impression
0421 BoC healthy 3
Liberty County Get Healthy challenge winners Evelyn Jackson, Jeri Varnum and Kathy Poole pose Thursday with program coordinator Laura Troutman. - photo by Photo by Danielle Hipps

Liberty County employees Evelyn Jackson and Dianne Barnard began walking together at lunchtime earlier this year when the county, city of Hinesville and Liberty County School System embarked on an eight-week “Get Healthy” challenge.
When the weather permits, the women still walk their downtown route, and they do it so often that residents have taken note.
“You never know who’s watching you, and we actually walk around town, and the other day we walked past a house over there by the Ford dealership, and the lady was in the yard and she said to us, ‘One thing I can say about you girls, you so are persistent,’” Barnard said. “We had no idea she was watching, and that really did touch our hearts.”
That type of synergy is exactly what challenge coordinators Laura Troutman, Krystal Hart, Holly Stevens and Peggy Rayman had in mind when they launched it in February.
The three entities waged a competition between them, and the winner will be announced Thursday at the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Progress Through People State of Hinesville luncheon.
Internal competitions for each entity took their own shapes, and many winners already have been named.
Jackson and Barnard, who were paired as buddies, were the county’s top two point-earners among 50 participants from 18 departments.
“What I wanted to do was get a healthier way of eating, and not just dieting but to be able to continue,” Barnard said. She quit eating after 9 p.m. and now chooses oranges and apples over cakes and cookies.
Having a partner held her accountable for her midday exercise, she added.
Jackson agreed, and added that keeping track of her food and activities was a key to success.
“That kept me focused; that was the main thing that really helped,” Jackson said. “It was different. It was something I had not done before, but it also is something I can continue.”
In addition to walking, the pair kept in touch by email to discuss their food choices and activities and to send encouraging messages.
Deputy clerk Jeri Varnum from the Liberty County Clerk of Courts Office shaved off 15 pounds and took first place for weight loss, which was calculated as a percentage of weight lost to level the playing field. Solid-waste employee Kathy Poole was second.
“I’m very competitive, so having to turn something in every week, the accountability really helped,” Varnum said.
Though she had an at-work buddy, Varnum credited collaboration with her husband, Grady Varnum, for her success. He already was on his own weight-loss journey but lost about 25 pounds during the eight-week challenge.
“He was exercising, but we just weren’t eating right …,” Varnum said. “We would go through the drive-through now and then. I wouldn’t say that we were horrible eaters. We just weren’t getting our water and enough vegetables, whereas now we’re grilling salmon and doing more chicken.”
Together, the pair traded starchy dinners like potatoes and macaroni for plates of lean meats and colorful vegetables. They also began opting for restaurant meals that were within their calorie limits.
“The realization was just knowing the calories that we were intaking,” Varnum said, adding that they were shocked and deterred upon learning that one restaurant’s guacamole appetizer had 1,700 calories.
“I feel healthier, I feel stronger,” she said. “It just makes you feel more confident that you can do it, that you reached a goal.”
Though none of them came in first, Troutman said males also took to the competition. Liberty County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Shawn Fields and Capt. David Edwards partnered and were neck-and-neck for wellness points.
Chuck VanDuser from the Liberty County Recreation Department lost the most weight for a male, she added.
The Hinesville Police Department was treated Friday to a lunch of garden salad and grilled chicken for being the winning department. They racked up an average of 1,491.86 wellness points.
Officer James Williams lost the most weight for the city, and inspections director Steve Welborn won for most weight lost at the mid-point weigh-in.
For Williams, the call to participate came in January when a cousin only a year younger than him passed away. That made him understand why his doctor told him to lose weight.
“You always say, I’ll do it, but when the time comes, it’s like, ‘Well, maybe I’ll do it later,” he said.  “It got to a point where you can’t put it off anymore; you’ve got to do this — not just for yourself, but for your children.”
The father of four admits making the initial dietary adjustments was hard, but he felt encouraged to experience it with a group of coworkers.
That support extended to his home, where he and his wife, Bobbie Williams, decided to purchase a treadmill. They keep it in their bedroom so it’s the first and last thing they see each day, and Williams finds that covering the time display prevents him from obsessing over the time spent exercising.
Williams has lost almost 30 pounds since the start of the competition and said he plans to keep going. Now the couple curbs second and third helpings but still finds time to indulge so the lifestyle is sustainable, and they are working on the 60-day Insanity Workout plan.
His children say they want to exercise, and a neighbor even said Williams’ enthusiasm encouraged him to become active, too.
“It was almost like a blessing in disguise. I was truly blessed that they said, ‘Hey, we’re doing a wellness challenge,’” Williams said.
As for the school-system competition, Rayman said Liberty County High School, Snelson-Golden Middle School and Liberty Elementary School were the winners for their levels of competition.
LCHS coach Jerome Standard was the top point-earner for his school, and Deborah Dubinsky and Roger Olsen were tops for SGMS while Brenda S. Brown and Kristi Craven topped the LES staff.

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