Healthy Executive Spotlight | Nancy Gunter

Name: Nancy Gunter
Job Title: VP of Leadership
Company: YMCA of Greater Tulsa

"Growing up in small towns in the Southeast I was always active.  Starting in the 7th grade, due to being bored, I tried out for basketball and discovered I wasn’t too bad.   I thoroughly enjoyed the sport and continued to play until my Sr. year of High School when I tore my ACL.  During college I tore the other ACL.  Neither of these injuries caused me to stop being active, but as I get older it does cause me to do my activities slightly differently.

In 1989 I traveled to Australia to be an International Camp Counselor.  I was there for 3 ½ months and absolutely loved everything I was doing.  I was active, since I was working at a camp, and picking grapes for a couple of weeks, but the bread, meat pies & desserts in Australia took a toll on me.  By the time I left headed home I had gained about 40 pounds.  I weighed so much that I only had 1 pair of shorts that still fit, and didn’t have enough money to buy new clothes so those shorts were almost worn out by the time I got home.  I have many pictures of my last few days there when I was getting to be a tourist and I have those shorts on in every single picture!

Seven months after returning from Australia, I started working for the YMCA and fell in love with the organization.  During that time wellness was not my top priority, but I was still playing softball and basketball and playing games with the kids I was working with.   I had learned on my trip to Australia that if I didn’t stay active I would suffer the consequences.  I would like to say that I started working out on a regular basis then and have never looked back, but unfortunately, that is not the case.  As I worked for the Y I tried to run on the treadmill, bike on the recumbent bike, workout on the elliptical, climb on the stairmaster, etc., but I did not enjoy any of it.  I would do it because I felt like I had to, but it was very boring for me and I was very inconsistent.  I continued to play softball & basketball, but the older I got, the more painful that became.

Finally in 2002 a friend of mine said she was going to do a triathlon.  I didn’t know what that was, but after she explained, the biking and running sounded challenging, but sort of fun.  The swimming, on the other hand, just sounded intimidating!  I could swim, but I was NOT a swimmer.  I thought, “I don’t think I could do this.”  I didn’t give it much thought until the day of the race.  I went to cheer and found that everything seemed so exciting and brought out in me the desire to participate.  After the race was over, my friend was exhausted but elated!  It was amazing to see what she had just completed – plus she got a medal!

After my friend finished the race, I decided that I wanted to do a race the next year, but I still had the problem of swimming.  My friend was a great swimmer and said she would teach me how.  Several months later I was swimming well enough to sign up for a triathlon and to complete my first Tri in 2003.  It was a Sprint Triathlon (500 meter swim, 12 mile bike, 5K run), but more importantly it gave me a goal and started a pattern of working out with a purpose as well as not doing the same thing every day.  For me this variety was important because I get bored with workouts that are the same.

I continued to do 3-4 sprint triathlons with my friend every year for the next 4-5 years, then my friend once again stepped it up and tried a ½ Ironman.  Once again, I was amazed and bitten by the bug, but this time it took 2 years before I completed a ½ Ironman.  Today, I have completed 3 ½ Ironmans, 2 Olympic Distance, and many sprints.  My friend has completed 1 Full Ironman, for which I helped her train by working out with her for ¾ of the distance.

As the VP of Leadership for the YMCA of Greater Tulsa one of my greatest hopes is that our employees will have a desire to be healthy and that they will know what health looks like.  As I determine what success is for our staff I see it from several perspectives.  Health is not your body shape, but rather it is knowing your numbers and discovering things you like to do in order to keep your numbers in the healthy range.  I know many people who, due to heredity, will not have a body shape that is the defined “perfect”, yet they are some of the most healthy people I know and likewise, there are many with the body shape we picture as health that are, in fact, very unhealthy.  Therefore, for me, a healthy workforce means that you know your numbers, you are paying attention to your numbers, and you are doing things with your diet & exercise, and in some cases going to see your doctor, in order to reach your desired numbers.  The mind is the most powerful aspect for success in wellness, and only by making a conscious decision to do things differently for a reason, will you ever be able to succeed.

One of the biggest obstacles that people face in making a change in their life is the mental side.  Each of us must make a decision and then EVERY DAY make that same decision again until after 3 months or more, it becomes a habit.  Even after that happens, it is easy to slip back into the old comfort zone, so we must still continue to make that decision EVERY DAY.  The mental battle is fierce – and DAILY.  Sure, there are some people that this comes easier for than others, but everyone knows what success looks like for them and we, as employers, should encourage each person’s success – even if it looks different.

I think one of the keys to an employee wellness program is not just support, but encouragement from the top of the organization.  The understanding that each person’s health is important, not just to the organization, but also to the people who lead the organization.  Over the last 5 years that we have offered our full-time employees a health screening, we have approximately 99% participation.  During 3 of these years we discovered issues that an employee was having that needed immediate medical attention.  THIS is the kind of thing that is important!  I want each of our employees to live a long, happy, healthy life regardless of whether they work for us or not.  Their health is important to the people who love them!

For me, being healthy is a daily decision.  Working out is not difficult as I have friends that I work out with, but eating is always a struggle for me and a constant decision making process.  Many times I make bad decisions, but all I can do is consciously start to change AGAIN, and get back on track with my plan.  I, just like all of the YMCA employees, want to be healthy for the people I love!

As an organization the YMCA is committed to healthy living and fighting the obesity epidemic, but so much of this success starts with employees mentally making a decision to change.  There are several levels that people go through before actual change occurs, but the person has to make the decision.  As businesses we need to give the opportunity for our employees to make this decision.  Many of them may be right on the verge of changing their lifestyle and if we offer the opportunity they will take it.  There are numerous studies to show the advantages of a healthy workforce so I would not begin to explain those, but I will say that, from my experience, if employees are given an opportunity to participate in a healthy way of life they will take it, even if it is only to a small extent to begin with."