Welcome back to #WhyIExercise. Our spotlight educator has been around the educational leadership and fitness community for quite some time now. Please welcome, Dr. Chris Longo. Chris grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is currently the principal at Schaghticoke Middle School in New Milford, CT. Chris earned his BS in biology from Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. He continued his education at Southern Connecticut State University where he received his MS in biology and his Sixth Year Professional Diploma in Education. In 2012, Chris became a Doctor of Education from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT. Follow Chris on Twitter @drchrislongo.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Chris.
I ran cross country and track in high school and began breaking numerous school records as a freshman. Then, I obtained a full scholarship to run track at Iona College in 1995. I also played basketball in high school on a team that won a state championship.
I run to decompress, reduce stress, and as a competitive means to accomplish goals. I run for my lost daughter, Angelina Marie Longo, lost on 1-1-16. I have been training since that time to run 22 marathons (she passed at 22 weeks). I currently have 20 complete. [Readers, please read this Fox News article about Chris and his quest to run 22 marathons.]
I train 3-4 days per week. 5 miles a day for two days a week, a day of 7 miles, and a long run of anywhere between 13 and 22 miles. I generally train alone but also run with an ultra marathon training group on select weekends.
I eat salads or wraps for lunch and a bowl of cereal with a banana for breakfast. Always have a good dinner that is high in protein. Being Italian, we have pasta every Sunday and I love pizza. My metabolism is very fast, so I can really eat whatever I want. At least right now!
It keeps me at balance in life.
Personal: To complete my 22 marathons in honor of my lost daughter Angelina. To share in this moment with my family, including my newest son, Matthew Luke, who is currently 4 months old.
Professional: To lead our middle school to success in my second year as Principal.
Athletic: To qualify for the Boston Marathon by running under 3:15:00.
Life has highs and lows; we need to push through the rough times, as these moments make us
My wife is my rock. Her support and love have made the journey even more meaningful. We are always there for each other and I couldn’t have been able to work toward the 22 marathon goal without her.
I’d like to personally thank Chris for sharing his story with the #WhyIExercise tribe. It’s such a personal story. I remember reading about Chris and his reason for running about a year and a half ago. It hit home. My husband and I lost a precious daughter at 26 weeks. I felt the pain that Chris and his wife went through. I remember reaching out to Chris’ wife. My husband and I believe that God knows so much more than we do. For whatever reason, our daughters are with Him. They will always be part of our families. We will continue to love them daily. One day, one glorious day we will see our precious daughters. Until then, they are in the best care ever.
Thank you, Chris, for reminding us of the importance of our families. Good luck on your final stretch for Angelina.
Marilyn . . .
Welcome back to our sixth week of #WhyIExercise. We have two more weeks of our series. I’m thrilled to introduce this week’s spotlight eductor, Brooke Perry. Brooke is from Tacoma, Washington and is embarking on a new journey as an Elementary Instructional Coach. Prior to this she was an ELA TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) and taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. Brooke earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Washington State University and her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and Ed Tech from Lesley University. Brooke is also the cofounder of the National Blogging Collaboration @Nat’lBlogCollab. Side note . . . I met Brooke when I was searching for a blogging coach. She’s amazing!!! Follow Brooke on Twitter @Brookster29.
Let’s get started . . .
I participated in organized group sports since I was a little kid. The sport that had my heart, though, was always softball. I loved the competition, of course, but looking back I have more memories of the friends that I made and of the support from my family. Summers were about softball and any and all family vacation efforts were channeled into travelling with my softball team. I played softball and soccer for my small high school and after I went to college, I just stopped. I’ll admit, it was strange to go from doing something for 12 years of your life and then just stopping. I think it caused a bit of an identity crisis on top of the awkward transition to college and adulthood.
A little disjointed … but I thought of this when I was running today. As a child and teen I HATED running. I thought it was boring and quite frankly I wasn't any good at it unless it was running the bases. I started playing soccer for the first time in high school and on the first day of practice the coach said, “Ok girls, I need goalkeepers to go over there and the rest of you come with me to run a few miles.” It was that moment that I became a goalkeeper! Luckily I was pretty decent at it, but I laugh now that I willingly run 20+ miles a week!
Lots of reasons, but honestly I just feel better about myself when I put effort into my fitness. I am addicted to feeling strong, athletic, and capable. Like many women, I’ve had my fair share of body image issues over the years. I’ve never had a hard time finding something wrong and picking myself apart. But, when I focus my energy on challenging myself or meeting a goal (right now I’m working on a half-marathon PR), there’s no time or energy left for being critical about the way I look.
Secondly, it wears me out! We have taxing jobs and I’m no stranger to laying awake for hours in the middle of the night stressing about this or that. There’s nothing better than that exhausted from an amazing workout feeling. It helps me focus on something other than work (which is something I’m trying to do while not at work!) and is a huge stress relief as well.
This year I’ve been focused on running. Depending on how far out I am from a race, my weekly regimen can change. I run four days a week which usually includes one or two “easy” runs (moderate paced, fewer miles), interval or tempo training, and a long run. Again, it varies based on where I am in my training schedule, but I run anywhere from 15-25 miles a week.
As far as training schedules, I’m currently using a half marathon training plan that is helping me run faster. I can run 13.1 miles, I just want to run them faster now!
I love food. My husband and I consider ourselves foodies who love to try new restaurants and cuisines. We also love beer and frequent the many local breweries in the Seattle area. That being said, I do focus on moderation and balance. I don’t count calories (I have in the past, which I think was good as it helped me learn more about the nutritional aspects of the food I eat), but I do focus on eating what makes my body feel good and work efficiently while also occasionally giving in to my addiction to Sour Patch Kids.
I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over three years now. That change has also been eye opening when it came to learning more about food and making conscious dietary decisions. The only things I struggle with and am always trying to watch is my protein intake (getting enough) and drinking water!
I tend to have difficulty setting work aside when it’s time to set work aside. After a busy day, when I go out for a run, I’m able to not only decompress from a busy day, but also devote my attention to my training and NOT work. By the time I get home from a five mile run, checking work email is the last thing on my mind.
What I’ve learned over the last seven years in education is that you can’t be everything you need to be in the classroom if you’re not taking care of yourself. On top of that, I spend 7+ hours a day focusing on the needs of others (which is a good thing for a teacher to do!), but running is something I’m able to do just for ME.
Some of my favorite quotes relate to one of my bigger challenges: TIME. I sometimes default to “I don’t have time,” when really it was about not making working out a priority, and sometimes that’s ok! However, taking responsibility of my time and acknowledging that it’s ME who chooses how to allocate that time, has been a shift in the right direction for me.
“It’s not about having time. It’s about making it.”
“Someone who is busier than you is running right now.”
Personal: Devote 100% of my attention to whatever it is I’m doing and wherever it is I’m at. If I’m at work, I’m going to focus on work. If I’m at home, I’m going to focus on family. I think that is a good priority to make for myself as I constantly strive to find more work/life balance.
Professional: I’m starting a new job in a new school district - so I have a lot of goals, the first of which is to not be awful! (kidding.. mostly). Really, I just want to build confidence in myself and develop strong and productive relationships with the teachers I work with. I want to continue to stay student-centered, to honor and learn from the experience and knowledge possessed by the teachers I work with, and play a role in increasing the effectiveness of instruction in my new building
Athletic: I’m on the hunt for a sub 2:10:00 half marathon!
When I think about someone who is tenacious I think confident, diligent, and focused. These are qualities that are not just helpful, but necessary when it comes to being an effective instructional coach (and runner!).
I’d like to personally thank Brooke for sharing her story with us. I love Brooke’s goal of giving 100% to whatever is in front of her. As we start gearing up for a new school year, that’s some advice to can latch on to. Work, family, and even quiet time deserve our 100%. Let’s commit to making it a goal for 2017-2018.
Brooke, good luck with your half marathon time. Your numbers are looking great!!! The #FitnessEdu and #FitLeaders tribes are cheering you on.
Marilyn . . .
I hope everyone is having a great summer and getting in some much deserved rest and relaxation. I am very pleased to introduce you to this week’s spotlight educator, Zach Snow. Zach is currently the district coordinator of STEAM and Innovation and also the head Girl’s Cross Country coach in Royse City, Texas. He humbly serves as the community pastor at Four Winds Church. Zach earned his BA from Arlington Baptist University and his MEd from Lamar University. Zach can be found on Twitter @ZachSnow.
Let’s hear from Zach . . .
I have always been active. In high school, I played basketball and baseball then went on to play college baseball. While finishing up my first degree, which then led directly into the birth of my boys (15 months apart), I stopped prioritizing fitness and nutrition. Before I knew it, I was tipping the scales at almost 230lbs (which is not a good look on a 5’9” frame). At this point, I really started to try to right the ship. Shortly after this time, my dad passed away at the age of 53. He just fell asleep and didn’t wake up. Cardiac arrest. Heart disease runs in my family (on both sides) and this was a very big wake up call. I want to be around the see my boys grow up. I want to be around to spoil grandkids. Another flashpoint moment for me was when my big brother finished grad school and told me that now he was done with that he wanted for us to train for a 5K or something together. I jokingly sent him a link to the Spartan Race that would be happening near us toward the end of the year. He said, “Let’s do it!”, I panicked. For the first time since ending my college baseball career I was reminded of the difference between EXERCISING and TRAINING. You see, when you are simply exercising and then one day you don’t really feel like exercising, you simply don’t exercise. When you are training for something, and you choose not to train, you embarrass yourself when it comes time to compete. I began running, really for the first time ever. When I started, I could not run for more than 2 consecutive minutes without stopping to rest. Over the course of the next 7 months I worked my way up to being able to run a full mile, then 2 full miles, then eventually running 5K’s at a sub 10 min pace to ultimately completing the Spartan Beast Race. The Beast is a 15 mile course with 30+ obstacles along the way. During the course of my training, along with a renewed commitment to nutrition, I was able to get down to 185 lbs. About what I was when I was playing ball in college. I can say that I have been able to maintain this program and this weight for 3 years.
Body - This is the only body I get, if I do not take care of it I will not be able to do all of the things that I love to do. I love playing ball with my boys. I love taking walks/runs with my wife. I love just being active. I’m am almost 40 (38 to be exact) and I can truthfully say that I feel 100% healthier and more fit than I did 10 years ago.
Mind - I have a very demanding job. I have a very demanding schedule. Being disciplined with my fitness and nutrition helps to bring clarity to my mind. I am a better, more focused leader for my family, colleagues, the athletes I coach, my district, and my community when I prioritize my fitness.
Spirit - I honestly believe I have a responsibility to my God to take care of the body He gave me.I truly believe that I live where I live and I work where I work for a specific PURPOSE. I see my job as a calling. I take a missional approach to every aspect of my life. Fitness and training, really pushing myself does not only give me clarity of mind, it gives me a connection to Christ. It’s part of my spiritual act of worship.
I run 2-3 miles 3-4 times per week. I will periodically extend into longer runs but I battled runner related injuries so much a couple of years ago I feel like I have learned to find a balance.
I crosstrain using HIIT movements with my running. I do not do a lot of “weight lifting” (moving iron) but mostly body weight movements (lots and LOTS of burpees, squats, planks, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.)
I. Jump. Rope. I jump a lot of rope. This has been a new addition to my program and we have a serious love/hate thing going on. My wife bought me a new jump rope and I use it almost every day now. (Get started jumping rope here.)
I mix up my workouts a lot. I get bored with routines really easily. My wife and I use Beachbody On Demand (think Netflix but with this huge variety of workouts instead of movies or TV series). Recently I have started this series with @ShawnTfitness that is a month long mix of different workouts. It’s pretty killer. I like it though because it’s fun and fast paced and it keeps me on track because it’s laid out for me every day.
Sometimes I will see workouts that my #FitLeaders friends post and I’ll just do that.
I try to keep this pretty simple. The rule is “greens and proteins”. I have recently given up gluten. I went completely gluten free for 8 weeks and will now give an exception occasionally because I did not give it up due to allergy but as a way to cut WAY back on my total carb intake (and it worked). I also have been completely kosher (no pig, no shellfish, no scaleless fish...no vultures) for a little over 2 years. If God said, “don’t eat it”, I don’t eat it. While I believe there was a reason for Him to tell us not to eat those things, it also has a big impact on the one area that my family medical history shows me I have to be mindful of, cholesterol.
Other than the occasional Shakeology smoothie that my wife makes for me, I do not use supplements.
Oh, also, I try to have a bowl of cereal before bed.
My overall fitness affects me professionally in a big way! I am a district employee. We have 8 campuses, almost 400 teachers, and 5400 students. I want to be as involved in the educational process with as many of these people as much as possible. I have become known around the office as the guy who doesn’t sit down. I only have a stand up desk in my office and I also have a mobile stand up desk that I can wheel around to other meetings. As an instructional leader for our district, I feel like it’s my job to be a constant source of positive energy. If I do not properly take care of myself, I cannot be this for my people.
Along with these responsibilities, I am also a cross country/track coach. My fitness regimen allows me to be able to not only coach my kids but I can also get out and workout with them, which is really important to me.
Personal: To be present. Not distracted. Focused on strengthening my marriage. Intentional about growing, developing and disciplining my sons. Read books that stretch me. Lay in a hammock as often as possible.
Professional: Continue to grow and strengthen our district wide STEAM initiative. Develop empowered leaders through our iCoach program. Read books that stretch me. Spend more time in classrooms, lunchrooms, gyms, libraries, and anywhere else students and teachers are. Offer more face-to-face learning opportunities while continuing to develop online learning for our teachers as well. (Follow RCISD STEAM innovations here.)
Athletic: Be disciplined. Be consistent. Be purposeful. I am hoping to finish my first sprint triathlon this year. I am also hoping to complete another Spartan Race. I would like to complete a 5K at a sub 9:00 pace.
My family and I actually did do the #OneWord challenge for 2017 and mine was TIME. I have committed to not saying “I just didn’t have the time to get that done”. I want to be a better steward of the time that I have been given. It’s just a conscious attempt to sanctify it.
I am so grateful to the #FitLeaders family that consistently fills up my feed with motivation.
Zach, thank you so much for sharing your fitness journey and experiences with the #WhyIExercise community. Your passion for your family, work, and church clearly drive your life’s mission.
As we reflect on Zach’s message, there is a point that particularly stands out for me. We only have one body. Zach knows first hand. Our hearts go out to you, Zach. To honor your father, you are sharing the message of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. It is extremely important that each of us know our family medical history. Take some time talk to your relatives about possible concerns. As Zach reminded us, we “want to be around to spoil grand kids.”
It’s an honor sharing these amazing educators and their stories with the #WhyIExercise tribe.
Marilyn . . .
Welcome back to week four of our #WhyIExercise series. You’re in for a treat as our spotlight educator, Mindi Vandagriff, shares her story with us. Mindi’s hometown is McKinney, Texas and is a Coordinator of Professional and Digital Learning in Anna, Texas. She has a BA from The University of Texas and a MS in Media Design and Technology. Mindi is currently working on a second master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I hope you’re as touched by Mindi’s transparency as I am.
Let get to it, y’all . . .
Exercise, per se, hasn’t always been a part of my life… but being active has. I was an athlete in high school; I was my high school’s mascot and I played volleyball, basketball, softball, and ran track. I wasn’t exceptional at any one sport, instead, I was a decent athlete at most sports. Being involved in team sports early in life, set the stage for my love of team sports in my adult life… which eventually led me to adult co-ed softball. A lot of adult co-ed softball. There was a time when I was playing softball at least three nights a week, and in tournaments most weekends. It was something that my husband and I could do together. Something that we loved doing together. Whether he was a spectator or the pitcher for our team, we were together. But juggling being a firefighter’s wife, a full-time mom to two boys, a full-time educator and a part-time softball player eventually caught up with me. I had to give up something and I reluctantly chose softball.
I still made time for me by joining a local women’s fitness group, P31, an hour workout 3-4 times per week, with women who also juggled being moms and wives and professionals. And while I loved dedicating more time to myself and my family and to my students, I realized that I was missing something. Being active. And not just being active like going for a jog or shooting some hoops in the backyard with my boys, but being active with my husband.... a team… a community of athletes. And maybe, just maybe I even missed the competition.
Last summer, I joined my local box, Crossfit TBR (#cftbr) in Anna, TX and it has challenged me more than I could have ever imagined. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I have found my tribe.
The reason that I Crossfit is honestly a little selfish, and maybe even a little vain. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to be healthy and strong, but I want to look healthy and look strong. I want my daily struggle to exercise to SHOW. When I look at physically fit people, I don’t look at them with envy, I look at them with pride-- like WOW. I know exactly what it takes to look like that and WOW. Nice work.
But if I am being completely honest, it motivates me. I hear their talk, via social media and in my Crossfit box, their motivation and their inspiration, and it changes the way that I talk to myself. My inner voice. Sometimes she (my inner voice) is downright mean. Nasty and hateful. The things that I say to myself are things I would never, NEVER say to anyone else. “You’ll never look like that.” “You aren’t dedicated enough.” “You aren’t strong enough.” “ You’ll never be that fast.” “It’s too late.” “You’re too old.” “It’s not worth it.”
And this, y’all, is a daily, if not hourly, struggle. But when I hear other people’s talk… it changes mine. So the reason I choose to exercise, to Crossfit, is to surround myself with people whose talk is louder than my negative inner voice. To drown her out and change her rhetoric.
I choose to Crossfit because I want people to see what I have overcome to even lace up my shoes or get out of bed and walk into the box.
I choose to Crossfit because I miss being on a team. A team of athletes who struggle and conquer daily just like me, who challenge themselves to overcome just like me. Who set and meet goals and set goals higher just like me.
When my mean, nasty, negative inner voice hasn’t convinced me to stay at home or convinced me that work is more important, a bigger priority than my health, I am at Crossfit TBR. I’m with my tribe. The WOD (Workout Of the Day) is different everyday and I LOVE that. Something new and challenging every time. During the school year, my favorite class is at 0500. Dark thirty. I love starting my day working out before the sun even rises.
During the summer however, I am trying the 0830 classes, which is a different regimen for me. Eating before I workout… lifting and running when there’s light outside.
I really enjoy doing HERO WODs-- named after Heroes who gave their lives in the line of duty. CrossFit Hero WODs are some of the most intense workouts that you could experience. They are intended to be performed with intense effort, in honor of our fallen Heroes. Their purpose is to remind us to think outside of ourselves. This past Memorial Day, I completed the annual #MurphChallenge. Maybe the most painful, challenging, and intense workout I’ve ever done, in memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005.
My most recent WOD was 5 RFT, 20 cal Air Dyne, 20 KB swings, 20 sit ups. Don’t let the Air Dyne fool you. That thing nearly ended me.
Food is my vice. My dirty little secret. I love food. All kinds of food… healthy foods, fattening food, sweets, drinks… all the food. I don’t eat until I’m sick, to the point of gluttony, actually it’s quite the opposite. I don’t eat enough. And you may think, wait what? Is she like 50 lbs? Nope, again quite the opposite. I struggle with food intake and so my body goes into fat-storage mode, something I honestly didn’t have to worry about until after I had babies. Which was almost 13 years ago, so you’d think I’d have it figured out by now. I don’t. I’m working on that.
You’ve probably heard that being fit is 20% in the gym and 80% in the kitchen. I’ve heard it, too. But I didn’t really realize that pertained to me until I reached the 20% in the gym. I was and am doing all I can in the gym; now, I’m working on what I do in the kitchen.
Actually, I’m not. I hate the kitchen. I hate cooking. I hate grocery shopping. The meat section at the grocery store intimidates me. I do not enjoy preparing a good clean meal. My husband, however, he has become quite the cook over the past 11 years as a firefighter. The problem is, he always cooks for 12 men. Even when he’s at home. There are 4 of us.
And did I mention I live with two teenage boys? They eat ALL. THE. TIME. I can’t keep up with the food and I certainly can’t keep up with the metabolism of two teenage boys and an active firefighter.
Yes, I know how to eat clean and buy it and prep it, but I do not enjoy standing in the kitchen for hours. You know this now. So, this past April, I started paying someone to food prep for me. She preps 10-12 meals plus snacks per week. I eat every 3 hours. It is the best money I’ve ever spent on my health.
As an education professional, I consider myself a servant to education. I am constantly serving others. I serve teachers, I serve students, I serve parents. And in that service, I am constantly thinking about I can serve better. Which means I am always “on”. Exercise helps me turn my brain off… from my work life, from my personal life, and make time for me. This is where I feel like the reason I exercise is selfish. When I am doing a WOD, I am not thinking about anyone but myself (selfish, but I am ok with this), setting goals and failing and setting new goals and achieving them all in the same workout. This tends to be my life mantra, start, fail, start over, keep going. This mantra carries over into my professional life because I live and breathe it when I exercise.
The funny thing is I relate just about everything to Crossfit, especially when I am at work. The analogies I give when I am facilitating lessons with students are Crossfit analogies. The analogies I give in professional developments and teacher trainings are Crossfit analogies. I even gave a presentation to our school board where I talked about academic measurements and of course, Crossfit.
Personal: Keep work at work. My boys are only getting older and my husband is only here 2 out of every 3 days. Spending time with them, albeit in front of the TV or riding around the neighborhood on our golf cart, is worth so much more than them constantly seeing me with a computer attached to my lap.
Professional: Keep work at work. My goal is to increase efficiency while I am at work so that I have more time for my family and for me when I am home. But while I am at work, my goal is to inspire and encourage others… lifting them up and celebrating small victories with them. I don’t need to be in the limelight, instead, I choose to help teachers feel empowered as our bus moves forward.
Kipping chest to bar pullups
WHEN I get these, my #fitleaders will be the first to know!
I literally have this tattooed on my body. It reminds me to slow down and focus. Focus on what is important. To inhale worries and stress and problems and to exhale all that I have been blessed with-- my health and the ability to set my mind to achieve anything physically possible; my husband who supports me and all that I take on, who encourages me to be the best version of myself daily; my boys who are so wonderfully made… full of good down to their cores; and my profession which I so passionately love and rewards my soul. When I take time to just breathe, I remember that I can NOT do it all. And to be perfectly content with that. When life happens, I encourage you to just #breathe.
I, by no means, pretend to be a fitness guru. In fact, I considered backing out of writing this post because of the educators who have been highlighted thus far, I am probably the least physically fit. I don’t exercise everyday. My food and dietary habits should not always be emulated. But my will to exercise shall prevail over my struggle to not. The struggle is real, y’all. And if I have learned anything over the years exercising and being active, I have learned that I am not alone. Talking about your successes and failures gives you fuel to take a cleansing breath and put one foot in front of the other. Talking about it quietens your negative inner voice. When we talk about our failures, it helps us pick each other up and keep going. I could not do this without my Crossfit TBR family. I could not do this without my #fitleaders family.
Wow!!! If there’s anybody that's going to get you to join Crossfit, it’s Mindi. Her passion for Crossfit, education, and her family is off the charts. If you’re not ready to join a box, but are ready to try some WODs, download the MyWOD app. Scroll through the WODs. You're bound to find one that you like. Well . . . except ones with burpees. :)
As much as we learned about Crossfit, the message that resonated the most for me is Mindi’s self-talk. Each one of us is more capable, more confident, and more amazing than we give ourselves credit for. We are leaders. We are role-models. We are life-changers. I challenge each one of you to stretch yourself this week. Do your own Hero WOD for yourself. There are students, colleagues, and family members that look up to you daily. You are their hero.
Mindi, thank you so much for sharing with us this week. You’ve inspired us more than you can even imagine.
Marilyn . . .
As educators, we know the importance fitness has on both our bodies and minds. This blog is a celebration of educators and the role exercise plays in our lives.