On-campus exercise program helps Hilton Head High teachers find time to get fit

abredeson@islandpacket.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Teachers are busy. When they're not teaching classes, they are often in meetings, preparing lesson plans or grading students' work.

That leaves little time for taking care of themselves.

After hearing teachers worry about health issues and say they didn't have time to exercise, Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O'Nan came up with a plan.

She asked her teachers if they would be interested in doing CrossFit as a group at the school. There was a lot of interest, so she made it happen. The administrative team raised money to cover the cost of the classes, and teachers began exercising together in September.

They gather at the school four times a week -- on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school and on Monday and Friday afternoons after school -- to work out in the school's gym and in the stadium. Students can sometimes be seen cheering on their teachers as they work out.

Reebok CrossFit Coastal Carolina instructor and co-owner Meg Herman, who teaches some of the classes along with other instructors, said a typical workout begins with warm-up, some cardiovascular and dynamic movement, and stretching. They follow that up with a skill of some kind, such as pullups, pushups or handstands. Then they move on to the "workout of the day," which is typically intense and includes cardiovascular movement, gymnastic movement or weightlifting.

Hilton Head High head volleyball coach and teacher Garret Talarczyk said he likes how every day is something different.

"It's always challenging," he said. "I never walk out of there like, 'I didn't get anything out of it.' "

Herman said CrossFit aims to constantly vary movements with high intensity.

"Routine is the enemy," she said. "You never know what's going to happen next (in these classes)."

Talarczyk said he used to run to get his exercise, but keeping that up during volleyball season -- when he gets even busier -- can be hard.

"It's kind of tough to get exercise, having kids at home and all that good stuff," he said. He started going to the CrossFit sessions two days a week in September. Now he participates in all four sessions every week.

The hardest part is getting up in the morning, he said. But now that the school has this exercise program, he is exercising more consistently.

Being held accountable by co-workers helps him stay on track, he said.

"If someone doesn't show up, we're getting emails from each other, like, 'Where were you?' We push each other. If someone's down a little bit, we try to motivate them and pump them up."

Ninth-grade math teacher Adriana Urato, who wasn't exercising at all before the classes started, agreed the accountability helps.

"We talk to each other during the day," she said. "It's a camaraderie thing. If I didn't have those people (saying), 'Hey, you going to CrossFit today?' ... I'm sure I'm not the only one who kind of gets egged on by everybody. If (O'Nan) hadn't started it, I'm sure I would still be doing nothing."

O'Nan said the teachers have really stuck with it. Four months after the program began, they are still going strong, with about 20 people working out together in the mornings and between 10 and 20 in the afternoons. Some of the teachers have started running together, too. They competed in Hilton Head Island Turkey Trot and Jingle Bell Run, and some are planning on running the Hilton Head Island Marathon in February.

Talarczyk has lost about 10 pounds. His blood pressure has gone down. He feels less stressed, more productive at work and happier in general.

Urato said she has noticed she has more energy and feels stronger now.

"It just forces and allows people at our school to exercise without having to leave the campus, and allows them to have no excuse not to make it a priority," O'Nan said. "Teachers, when they feel better, are going to teach better."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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