Through WellNS, Norfolk Southern’s voluntary employee wellness program, employees across the railroad’s 22-state operating territory are taking steps to improve their health and fitness. During 2017, BizNS is featuring WellNS Champions, employees who are getting active and eating healthier – and inspiring co-workers as they do.
Marathon Mom: One small triathlon leads to big fitness gains for Atlanta employee
Less than three years ago, Gail Anthony did not run, only swam the breast stroke, and occasionally rode a hybrid bicycle around her neighborhood. These days, however, the Norfolk Southern senior technology engineer is a triathlon veteran – and she recently completed her first marathon.
Anthony’s evolution from sideline observer to amateur athlete began when she registered her two sons, Brodie, then 7, and Finn, then 5, for a small triathlon in the fall of 2014. After learning that the competition was open to adults, she agreed to join them, even though she then rarely exercised.
“It was very hard because I had barely trained,” she recalls, “but I enjoyed the challenge of having to master three sports.”
Starting the journey to fitness
Completing that first triathlon with her sons motivated Anthony to carve out time for exercise.
“I knew I needed to lose weight,” she said. “I have three kids in sports, and finding any time to do anything when on the go with them is tough.” (In 2015, Anthony’s then 3-year-old daughter, Adelina, completed her first triathlon, and all of her children stay active with soccer, swimming, triathlons, and runs.)
Anthony works in NS’ Information Technology Department at the company’s Goode Building in Midtown Atlanta. For exercise, lunchtime fitness classes offered through WellNS, NS’ voluntary health and wellness program, fit neatly into Anthony’s packed schedule.
“Being able to do core classes and yoga at lunch helped tremendously,” she said. Anthony upped her training by joining a gym. With an expansion of WellNS’ FitNS network in 2017, employees now have access to gym memberships, weight loss resources, and wellness tools at discounted rates through the company’s partnership with GlobalFit.
Since her first triathlon, Anthony has shed 45 pounds, which she credits to a combination of exercise and dietary changes. She drinks more water, practices portion control at meals, and chooses healthy snacks. “If I’m hungry in the afternoon, I eat nuts or dried fruit – not chocolate,” she said.
This mom runs the town
Anthony discovered that she enjoyed running after joining the Suwanee (Ga.) chapter of Moms Run This Town, a nationwide running club for mothers. Since she started training for triathlons, Anthony has improved her running time, added freestyle to her swimming strokes, and become a skilled cyclist, upgrading her bicycle to a road bike.
“I like triathlons because the training is diversified,” she said. “You get to do three different things, and the triathlon community is incredible. A lot of the people who are doing triathlons are very supportive, and their knowledge is invaluable.”
In the fall of 2016, Anthony completed her first Half Ironman, a race that includes a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run or half marathon. In March, she finished her first marathon – a 26.2-mile race through Atlanta. She completed the course in 5 hours, 29 minutes, placing 58th out of 100 in her age group.
Words of advice to would-be marathoners
During her journey to improved fitness, Anthony has become a cheerleader for other marathoners and would-be marathoners. One co-worker recently completed her first half marathon after getting encouragement from Anthony. “I always feel that if I can inspire one person to get active it’s worth starting the conversation,” she said.
For those new to exercise, Anthony recommends starting off slowly. “If you haven’t exercised for a while and need to lose weight, you don’t need to do high impact,” she said. Setting realistic and achievable goals is the key to avoid becoming discouraged, she added. When she first started running, for example, Anthony said she focused more on finishing a race and less on how long it took her.
“Doing walk and run instead of running the entire race can be the difference between finishing and dropping out when first getting started,” she said. “As your fitness improves you can try to run an entire race – only then would I worry about setting minute-mile or overall time goals.”
Anthony’s next fitness goal is to complete the Savannah (Ga.) Rock and Roll Marathon in November 2017.
For someone who always finished last in school field day races and who has struggled with weight control her entire life, Anthony never thought she would finish a Half Ironman or a marathon. “If I can do this,” she said, “anyone can!”
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