Wayland employees changing lives through wellness initiative

January 12, 2011

PLAINVIEW – One year ago, Amy Rendon would not have ever imagined herself training for a half-marathon… or even wanting to.

But today, Rendon is 40 pounds lighter and running her way to even greater fitness, thanks to the wellness program at Wayland Baptist University. Rendon, a 2008 graduate who hails from Midland, is an evaluator in the Office of the Registrar. She served as Miss Wayland in 2007 and loved her experience as a student.

After returning to the campus to work in 2009, she learned that a new emphasis on healthy lifestyle was emerging at Wayland and she was challenged to participate in the Weight Watchers group that was forming on campus.

“I was a little reluctant, but once I started I found myself in such an unhealthy place. I was a little discouraged at first but I knew I needed to make some lifestyle changes,” Rendon said. Once she got the results back from her biometric screening – conducted annually on campus for all employees who choose to participate – she decided to jump in with both feet.

It has changed my whole lifestyle and my picture of myself,” she said. “I found a new sense of self-confidence. And when you make a choice in a positive direction, people really take notice and are inspired.”

Rendon’s story is repeated across the Plainview campus as well as Wayland’s 12 external campuses by employees who have given it a shot and discovered a whole different person inside them.

One of those is Ron Appling, Wayland’s director of human resources and the wellness guru on campus in terms of implementing the program anew in the fall of 2009 and keeping it going and growing. When he stood on stage at the faculty-staff development session in August 2010 and proved he had put his money where his mouth was, dropping 75 pounds that first year, the result was a standing ovation from the room of coworkers.

His wife Deanna got in on the health and fitness regiment herself, losing 40 pounds before becoming pregnant with the couple’s first child, a son named Ryne, born around Christmas. Already, she has dropped her pregnancy weight with healthy habits.

Today, Ron is 92 pounds lighter and said he has his life back, a life that does not include the sedentary behavior that used to be the norm. Now he’s running 5K races, bicycling and setting goals that push him to increase his strength and fitness. For 2011 he hopes to run a 10K and participate in the 100-mile bike ride in Wichita Falls. He’s already biked to the Lubbock and Amarillo campuses of Wayland and wants to add Clovis to that for the new year. And he is already in the process of accomplishing the goal of organizing a Wellness 5K and fun run for the spring.

Appling said the change in his own lifestyle is indicative of the attitude shift that has taken place at the university since the wellness program was unrolled in August 2009.

“I would say it is a huge success because you walk around this campus now and see the change in people and hear their conversations,” he said. “To me, the culture has started to change. Are we there yet? No. But the fact that people are more conscientious of their behavior is a good thing. We’re accomplishing the goals that we wanted to.”

Those goals included lowering the university’s healthcare claims over the long haul, and experts predicted it would take three years to realize any changes in that process. So when the first report came back with significant drops, officials were astonished, thinking it had to be wrong.

It was accurate, and other reports give reason to be hopeful not only for the current claims cycle but for the future health of employees overall. Appling said 372 employees, just over 90 percent, are participating in the walking challenge which offers incentives for reaching milestones based on the distance to each of the WBU campuses in the system. More than 70 percent participated in the health risk assessment through the Wellness Web site, reporting their biometric screening figures and receiving advice for measures to improve risk areas. Appling said the numbers are much higher than they expected in terms of participation.

But other numbers are even more encouraging because they attest to the true change that will benefit employees for years to come and head off future illnesses and health problems.

“Our blood glucose numbers went down, our obesity decreased and our waistlines shrunk overall,” he said. “We moved about 15 percent of our people from pre-diabetic stage to normal. We know that was a big problem on our campus.”

Both BMI (body mass index) and waistlines dropped 3 percent, indicative of weight loss and healthier lifestyles. Physical activity and healthy eating practices are on the rise according to the screenings.

The changes have been seen at every level, from top-level administration to entry-level staff, and enthusiasm is picking up for the program which offers prize incentives for participation in the walking challenge and breaks on health insurance premiums for those racking up participation points in various areas.

Education faculty member Dr. JoBeth DeSoto took advantage of the university’s newest fitness facility, the Laney Student Activities Center, to walk and exercise. She shaved nearly 50 pounds in the wellness program and is enjoying more energy and motivation to stay moving. Danny Andrews, director of alumni development, lost about 22 pounds while participating in Weight Watchers on campus and visited the Laney Center to walk regularly with wife Carolyn, who works in the President’s Office.

“I have continued to participate in the walking challenge our wellness program offers but need to get back to a more strenuous walking program,” Andrews said. “The older you get, the harder it is to take the weight off and, if you’re not focused, those pounds will come back pretty quickly and bring friends with them.”

Even younger employees are picking up the challenge to establish healthy lifestyle habits now. Lorna Lydick, office assistant in the Office of Admissions, began working at Wayland in 2009 when she and husband Kenny moved from Yuma, Colo., for him to pursue a religion degree. Though she had done Weight Watchers in high school and even ran track her senior year, Lydick had settled into a sedentary lifestyle after getting married.

Once on board at WBU, she learned about the wellness program and decided it might be time to try to get the excess weight back off. She joined the campus Weight Watchers group, trimmed her meal portions and began seeing results. Lydick is now 25 pounds lighter and hopes to lose another 10 pounds.

But her lifestyle, like many of her coworkers, has changed dramatically. She runs regularly and is training for a half-marathon, with the goal of participating in a full marathon later this year.

“I wanted to be healthier while I am young, before it gets too hard to do,” Lydick said. “I’m happier and more motivated to do active things. I love to cook, and it’s been fun to cook healthier.

“I feel like I’m doing this for the right reasons this time. My body is God’s temple and I’m supposed to take care of it. I wanted to be healthy before we start a family and I want to be able to play and do things with my kids. And in the long run, I don’t want to have major health issues.”

The wellness program has also seen the ripple effect take place. Appling said one of his high school friends from Facebook recently announced he was joining Weight Watchers after seeing how effective it had been for Ron. Michelle Rollins, who works in the BAS/BCM offices, said her parents who struggle with different health challenges have been inspired to lose weight as she has and improve their health. She also found herself inspired to begin an online blog about healthy living and cooking which has now been picked up by a sponsor and has readers around the country.

Rendon said her own family has picked up healthier habits, and she has joined forces with Dr. Erika Deike, assistant professor of exercise and sport science, to create a Life Group through their church, Harvest Christian Fellowship, entirely focused on healthy lifestyles. She sees a definite culture shift at the university and said the support and encouragement from coworkers has been key to her success.

“I feel like Wayland doesn’t even realize the positive impact that has gone out from this effort,” Rendon said.