Monday I was recognized by Howell Wechsler, the CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation as the first Healthier Generation Hero, an award they plan to give annually. When asked just a week ago if I was able to attend the annual Healthy Schools Program Forum hosting by the Alliance in Little Rock, AR, I was told I was being honored, but assumed it was for my bike ride across the US and the money I raised for them, over $22,000 to fight childhood obesity. I didn’t realize it was for my genuine passion and work in the field of school health. The Healthy Schools Program (HSP) is an annual event that recognizes schools around the country participating in the Alliance’s 6-step process to create healthier school environments. These teachers, administrators, school board members, school counselors and other local champions are present and recognized for obtaining bronze, silver or gold status, an incredibly difficult feat.
Since I didn’t realize I was invited for my dedication to school health and for exemplifying the Alliance’s mission to combat childhood obesity, I was struck by the introduction given by my colleague and friend Howell. As Howell mentioned my accomplishments in the field in school health nationally, I was touched by his recognition and support of my work, as well as his charisma and emotion surrounding what I do. I was in disbelief that I was getting an award. I got my first standing ovation of my life and it felt great to be celebrated among over 250 school health champions, the people working everyday to implement and advocate for making schools healthier places for students and staff.
Howell briefly interviewed me and I was asked to say a few remarks. I received direction to inspire these champions to go home invigorated, to keep the momentum of their work going as they deal with competing pressure of test scores and AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). I had a few days to write something up and started writing a few days ago with talking about being a middle school teacher and having students that were homeless or food insecure (unsure when you’ll get your next meal), but decided against talking about my past as a teacher. After a day or two of processing and talking to a few mentors and my family, I decided to talk about the life lessons I learned on my bicycle ride across the US. What did I learn that might help these educators feel empowered, sustain programs and reflect on their work? Then, the writing came easier. I talked about 5 lessons learned.
1. Having a sense of humor
2. Creating a balance of work and play
3. Building relationships
4. Asking for support and help
5. Enjoying the journey
I told stories about how each of these key lessons learned played an essential role on my adventure. I shared photos and even a video. And, then I received my second standing ovation in my life. WOW! Exhilarating. I never knew my 23-year dream would bring me recognition like this. I set out to genuinely accomplish a personal goal and here I was inspiring others. Coolest thing ever.