Great-Grandmother gets active with FitFuture

 7/9/2007

FORT WORTH - Shirlynn McGee knew something had to change. Her sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits were taking its toll on her health. She was diagnosed with diabetes and had high blood pressure. More than that, however, was the need for 55-year-old McGee to keep up with and take care of her six great-grandchildren.

McGee, a patient at JPS Health Network, said her doctor had been telling her to lose weight for some time. The next step in the treatment was going to be insulin, and McGee refused to go that route, she said. Her mother-in-law took insulin, but McGee refused to.

"That was motivation to get moving, but the grandkids were even more motivation to me," McGee said. A frequent volunteer at Mitchell Boulevard Elementary school, McGee heard about the FitFuture program through Coordinator Yolanda Pitts and has since become an active participant in the program, losing more than 30 pounds since February. "At first when I heard about the program I was undecided about it, but the more and more involved I got with the grandkids, I began to get more and more involved with the program," McGee said.

FitFuture is a three-year school-based initiative by JPS Health Network, United Way of Tarrant County and UNT Health Science Center that combines nutrition education, exercise and family involvement. Its primary goal is to reduce the rate of obesity among participating third-grade students at Mitchell Boulevard Elementary, as measured by body fat, waist circumference and body mass index.

Richard Young, M.D., co-principal investigator for FitFuture, said that in order to get the kids involved, it is necessary to start with the family, which is where McGee comes in. She has been committed and helpful from day one, Young said. "She is the volunteer queen at the school and was a constant presence before we got there," Young said. "It worked out really nice that a person already active at Mitchell Elementary got involved in the FitFuture program."

Since getting involved with FitFuture, McGee and her family have joined the YMCA. FitFuture offers a $10 family membership and McGee said she has since been going to the gym faithfully. She has lost more than 30 pounds since getting involved with FitFuture. "I had passed by a lot and I kept saying, 'One day I'm going to get there," McGee said. "So it gave me a great opportunity when they came into the school and offered the membership."

McGee has also started teaching some evening aerobics classes at the YMCA. It gives her a chance to unwind and relax, and after frequently taking care of her six great-grandchildren, including two that live with her, it offers McGee some time for herself, she said. McGee said she likes teaching the classes because she knows if she doesn't, a lot of the class participants won't get their workout in, and that motivates her.  "We're there to have fun and dance," McGee said. "But the main thing about it is we get our heart rate up and sweat."

Recently, McGee encouraged families to get involved with the program at the FitFuture "Get up and Go!" walk on June 9. The purpose of the walk was to show families in the area the importance of walking as exercise. Prior to the walk, McGee helped participants loosen their muscles with some stretching exercises. "The more involved people are with the program, the more we will get out of it," McGee said.

Young said he wanted families to learn that it's okay to get out and walk, especially with others.  FitFuture Coordinator Yolanda Pitts, M.Ed., CHES., said they had about 18 families participate in the walk. She said McGee is the kind of person that every program wishes they had. "People can look at her age and how her health has improved and her involvement with her grandkids and be inspired," Pitts said. "People with busy schedules can look at her and think, 'If she can do it, so can I."

Pitts said the greatest difference she has seen in McGee since she got involved with the program is her health. Her health has improved which has greatly improved her quality of life and what she can do, Pitts said. McGee said she used to lack energy and find herself out of breath too quickly. Now, she can keep up with her grandkids and feels good about herself.

FitFuture also offers dietary classes to kids and parents taught by JPS dieticians, Young said. It teaches portion control, what a healthy snack is, and what goes into certain foods, he said. McGee said she finds the classes on food preparation especially important to her, since she has high blood pressure and diabetes. She doesn't fry food as much, and has learned to only eat certain foods in moderation. "I can still eat my ice cream, as long as I get my right portion... and don't go back for more," McGee said.

FitFuture has also provided an opportunity for McGee to pass down to her grandkids healthy eating habits at a young age. "I don't want them to go through what I've gone through," McGee said. "they need to learn the habits young."

McGee said she has had a lot of people approach her and tell her they've noticed she's losing weight. She's flattered by that, but she wants them to realize that they can do it too, she said. All people need is a little motivation, she said. "I want to try my best in everything," McGee said. "I'm just trying not to let my grandkids down."