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It was the spring of 2007.  I had just turned 50.  Shortness of breath sent me to my doctor.  After a battery of tests he told me I was 50 pounds overweight, had hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and the muscles on the left side of my heart had started to abnormally thicken (ventricular hypertrophy).  The good news was some of this could be reversed. 

It was time to change my life.

I changed my eat-like-a-teenager-diet to a heart healthy diet and decided to start a bicycle exercise program.  I bought my first bicycle since I was a kid.  At first it was all I could do just to ride it down the street.  But I set daily goals, and slowly I started to add the miles. 

Soon the pounds began to disappear.  From April 2007 to the following April I went from 220 pounds to 170 pounds, my blood pressure reduced, my lipid profile returned to normal and I was able to stop almost all my medications. 

A funny thing also happened along the way – I fell in love with bicycling. It stopped becoming a daily chore and became something I looked forward to.  

I now pedal some 4000 miles per year, and have ridden my bicycle across many states and over many mountains.

This year as a freshman legislator I was able to put my bicycling experience to good use in advocating for the Bicycle Passing Bill to improve road safety in South Dakota.  Gratefully, the bill garnered overwhelming support and was signed into law by the Governor on March 12th

South Dakota has now joined over two dozen other states in establishing a minimum three-foot passing law. In addition, if the posted speed is over 35 mph, the minimum distance for a motorized vehicle to pass a bicycle bumps up to six feet.

Hopefully the new law will encourage more people to take to the roads and enjoy the many health and recreational benefits of bicycling.    For me, bicycling was a tool I used to turn my life around. Now I pedal not because I have to, but because I love to.

Tania Noelle Boughton is Chair of the AHA State Leadership Council for Obesity Prevention, the author of cookbook Eating Light, Done Right, and the founder of “Check the Light Before You Bite!” a healthy eating program in school districts, geared toward helping children make healthier food choices. But first and foremost, Tania is Mom to her two sons.
 
A few years ago, Tania saw what appeared to be a hole in the self-help/cookbook market. As she quickly dropped her baby weight and experienced droves of people at the gym asking how, began to she dig deeper. She realized that while she had made the decision to stop eating emotionally, many of these people had not. Herein lies the groundwork for Eating Light, Done Right: Simply Sinless Recipes from the Single Mom Next Door. Drawing on her experience in the military counseling troops on weight control, she quickly realized that she loved helping people face the demons within. This turning point redirected her life in a positive direction.
 
As a mom, Tania knows how important it is to make eating healthy fun for kids. That’s why she teamed up with the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to establish a program called “Check the Light Before You Bite!” to reward kids when they choose healthy food options at school. The program is in full swing with sponsors, teams and professional athletes signing on, however she quickly realized that her work needed to be taken a step further. Rewarding children for writing recipes, essays and making healthier eating decisions was progress, however it wasn't enough. As she traveled further into schools and the underserved areas, she realized that many of these children didn't have the option to eat healthfully, because they had little to no access to grocery stores and healthy food.
 
Tania understood that her journey to improve children’s health would not be complete without being involved in advocacy through You’re the Cure, to engage Texas lawmakers to change policies for the better. Tania came upon a poignant moment this past December when delivering holiday gifts to an elementary school in Dallas. The hallways were lined with children, Pre-K to fifth grade, waiting to go home. Each student was holding an apple or pear, given to them by the cafeteria staff because otherwise the fruit would have spoiled overnight.

Tania was struck by the fact that these apples and pears may be the only fruit, or dinner that the children would have at home that night. This moment was both heartbreaking and motivating, all in one. The Voices for Healthy Kids Texas Campaign, in which Tania is an active participant through her role on the State Leadership Council, will work diligently to change this, so all Texas families can access grocery stores. Tania is passionate about engaging more volunteers in this effort, and the You’re the Cure Texas team thanks her for her dedication!

Thurman Paul is like many You’re the Cure Advocates connected to stroke. His father’s uncle suffered a stroke two years ago.  His interest in the Advocacy work of the American Heart Association began with a simple call to action to sign a petition in support of obesity prevention on the community level.

Thurman promptly signed the petition and answered a follow-up email to supporters of the petition asking for those interested in learning more about the American Heart Association’s advocacy work to reply to the email. He did so because he believes finding a cure for heart disease and stroke should be a priority.  Thurman’s first activity as a You’re the Cure Advocate involved a visit to U.S. Senator James Inhofe’s office to advocate for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The concept of volunteerism and activism is not a new one for Thurman. He recently returned from a service trip to Nicaragua where he taught classes and distributed food and supplies to youth groups.

Thurman has also worked with his mother to visit juvenile centers and visit with youth.   Travel and new experiences are a driving factor in his commitment to service. “Volunteerism is a way for me to give back while being around people,” he said. 

Interested in becoming more involved with the American Heart Association’s fight to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke? Email Brian Bowser at brian.bowser@heart.org to learn more about how you can take action!