Diabetes Forecast

Why Start a Family Challenge?

By Cynthia Kemp , ,

At the time of my Aunt Norma Jean’s passing, I was researching the diabetes epidemic. The more I read about the exploding incidence of diabetes and prediabetes, along with the struggles of those living with the disease, the more insurmountable the problems seemed.

Putting such thoughts aside, I traveled to Georgia for the celebration of Norma Jean Fountain’s life. A nurse who never stopped learning, my aunt was an advocate for healthy eating and exercise, and she practiced what she preached. Until Parkinson’s Disease rendered her immobile, she started each day with an early morning walk. In eating, she followed Hippocrates’ philosophy: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

With a husband and three sons living with diabetes, Norma Jean understood the challenges of this disease, which has affected many in our family. As I stood among my kin that weekend, the global problem of diabetes felt personal. The thought came that although I can’t change the whole world, perhaps I can change my corner of it. And the idea of a family challenge was born.

My mind stirred with questions. What if everyone set individual goals to improve his or her health so that overall, we have a healthier family? Could we create a challenge where we encouraged, supported and inspired each other? Would anyone even want to do this?

My first step was to assess interest among the cousins, who are the grandchildren of Bert and Mae Ayris through their children Art, Norma Jean, and Mary. When we included spouses and adult children and grandchildren, the list of potential participants for the challenge totaled 36.

The call went out and more than one third of our extended family expressed interest in the idea. This diverse group included:

  • 9 males and 5 females, ages 20 to 62
  • Four people with type 2 diabetes and one with type 1 diabetes
  • No one aware of having prediabetes.

Next, we asked everyone to set SMART goals that were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. The goals mostly clustered in the areas of weight loss, exercise, and healthier nutrition such as eating less sugar and more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water.

We considered several options for the length of the challenge, but we decided it would end on Dec. 31, 2017. Using January to get ourselves organized, this would give us almost a year. Hopefully we’ll conclude the challenge with a reunion to celebrate our healthier family.

To implement our project, we needed a name. We chose the “Norma Jean Family Challenge” to honor a loving woman whose encouraging words and example of healthy eating and movement inspired the idea.

We also needed several avenues of communication because not every family member used social media. So, in addition to emails, texts, and old-fashioned phone calls, we created a closed Facebook group. While it remains to be seen how the group will be used, thus far we’ve shared ideas, motivational quotes, and resources such as fitness apps.

Humor will certainly be a part of our challenge. My cousin Linda Grimsley posted from the Atlanta Falcons game, “Got 20 minutes of exercise today walking around the Georgia Dome twice. If chewing is considered an exercise, I can get the rest of my time in at the game. Go Falcons!!!”

An attitude of “You gotta have fun” will help us see this project through. But the key to success will be our ability to create a culture of accountability within a positive, supportive, judgment-free environment.

My expectation is that some goals will be achieved and some partly realized, while others won’t make it too far off the starting block. Life is full of twists and turns. Regardless of what we achieve, I believe this challenge will “up our game” in adopting healthier lifestyles. I know we’re going to grow closer and laugh along the way.

I am blessed to call this wonderful group of people my family. Vulnerability is essential in close relationships and every person participating has demonstrated a willingness to be vulnerable. Accomplishments begin with the decision to try, and I am exceedingly proud of my family for making the decision to join the Norma Jean Family Challenge and try for a healthier future!

Family Challenge Participants and Their Goals

Of the 14 participants in the Norma Jean Family Challenge, nine chose to share their experiences with Diabetes Forecast. The information for each person appears below. During 2017, Diabetes Forecast will provide updates on each participant’s progress with his or her health goal.

Name: Ragan Adkins

Age: 34

Location: Statesborough, GA

SMART Goal: Exercise a minimum of 4 times a week for at least 30 minutes; lose 13.6 lbs by 12/31/17

Name: Art Ayris

Age: 59

Location: Fruitland Park, Fla.

SMART Goal: Lose 10 pounds by the end of the year; exercise for 30 minutes four times a week; eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily

Name: Ben Ayris

Age: 31

Location: Tavares, Fla.

SMART Goal: Exercise 30 minutes a day, three times a week

Name: Kelly Ayris

Age: 56

Location: Fruitland Park, Fla.

SMART Goal: Increase muscle flexibility

Name: Madison Fountain

Age: 20

Location: Dacula, GA

SMART Goal: Work out 3 times a week and stop drinking soda.

Name: Richard Fountain

Age: 59

Diabetes: Type 2

Location: Twin City, Ga.

SMART Goal: Lose 10 pounds by year-end; lower A1C to below 6 percent by year-end

Name: Theo Fountain

Age: 61

Diabetes: Type 2

Location: Dacula, Ga.

SMART Goal: Walk at least 40,000 steps per week through year-end; lose 10 pounds by June 30; maintain A1C of 7 percent or less through year-end

Name: Linda Grimsley

Age: 61

Location: Mauk, Ga.

SMART Goal: Lose 15 pounds and strengthen body; exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes (walk 1 mile a day during lunch or after work and exercise at home the rest of the week)

Name: Bill Kemp

Age: 62

Location: Sarasota, Fla.

SMART Goal: Lose 8 pounds by year-end; get 7 or more hours of sleep at least 5 nights per week (going to bed by 11 p.m.); reduce average calorie input by 200 calories per day; increase average calorie output by 100 calories per day through exercise

Name: Cynthia Kemp

Age: 57

Location: Sarasota, Fla.

SMART Goal: Lose 8 pounds by year-end; exercise a minimum of 5 hours per week

Name: Daniel Kemp

Age: 20

Diabetes: Type 1

Location: Sarasota, Fla.

SMART Goal: Lose 15 pounds by year-end; eat 2,200 calories a day; run 3 to 4 times per week; and run a mile in under 7 minutes, 30 seconds

Name: Carolyn McClanahan

Age: 63

Location: Hope Mills, N.C.

SMART Goal: Lose 10 pounds by Dec. 31 by continuing to eat a low-carb diet; eat oatmeal (or equivalent substitute) at least 2 mornings a week; take lunch (e.g., salad, homemade soup) to work, and exercise 4 days a week for 30 minutes.

Name: Shondra Odom

Age: 41

Location: Box Springs, Georgia

SMART Goal: Exercise 30 minutes a day, 4 times a week

Name: Arlie Stevens

Age: 35

Location: Powder Springs, GA

SMART Goal: Exercise at least three times a week for 30+ minutes each; lose 30 pounds in 2017



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