In 1983, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Education from DePaul University in Chicago. Two years later, I earned a Master of Science degree in Physical Education with a concentration of Exercise Physiology from Illinois State University. In large part, my dad inspired my interest in athletics. He was a big sports fan (mainly Notre Dame football and White Sox baseball) and I ended up lettering in tennis and softball at DePaul.
It was my mom, however, who inspired my interest in health. Mostly, I learned – as most children do – by her example. Mom took good care of herself. She was very careful about what she ate. Being a member of the so-called Greatest Generation, she was never into complicated and expensive methods of staying healthy. She never joined a gym and, to my knowledge, never went jogging. Raising ten children gave her all the exercise she needed. Her focus was mainly on nutrition. She tried to stay on top of the latest research and advice and she was faithful about keeping up with her regular check-ups and screenings, and ours.
During the lean months, Mom would create “meatless casseroles”. When I got older and asked for some of her recipes. “Oh, I just throw in the pot whatever I’ve got,” she laughed.
One of my fondest memories was going grocery shopping with Mom. She taught me how to organize the cart – canned goods with canned goods, frozen foods with frozen foods. It’s a great organizational trick but I’m afraid I’ve become a bit obsessive about it. It drives me nuts when I place like items with like items on the conveyor belt only to have the cashier or bagger mix things up. Thank God for self check-out these days. When I get home, unloading the groceries is a snap. Thanks Mom!
But one of her greatest gifts to me was the idea of what we put into our body mattered – a lot. After one trip to her favorite grocer, Garofalo’s, I dug into the bananas and, by the end of the day, they were gone. She might have gotten upset with me but, instead, she praised me for making healthy food choices. “You’re going to be a healthy person when you grow up and when you have children, it’ll go easy for you.” I was far from giving birth at that point but she had given me a mission, a goal. Eat healthy, be healthy. So far, so good. Thankfully, both of my pregnancies and childbirths were uneventful – that is, other than the miracle in and of itself. My second-born was delivered without any drugs or anesthesia. I wasn’t trying to be a hero or anything but by the time I asked for something it was past the point of effectiveness. Thanks, Mom!
I cannot say how much or how little my health and that of my children has had to do with the foods we have or have not eaten. Bad things happen to some people who do everything the ‘experts’ say and there are people who break almost all the ‘rules’ and live long and relatively healthy lives. (I just described my mom and dad, respectively.) I can say with confidence, however, that the saying, “You are what you eat” holds a lot of truth (but not 100% truth) and that what we choose to eat or not eat has more to do with our overall health than most people probably realize.
Mom is with me in spirit now and my own two are thankfully healthy and happy and at the edge of adulthood. I hope I’ve set good examples for them along the way. I hope I’ve inspired them to take care of themselves as my mom did me. But, that wouldn’t be enough. Mom motivated me to further myself, to go to college and to learn a lot and to use what I learned with the world as well as my own children. I was the eighth child born to her and the first child to get a degree in four years. I could not have done it without Mom and I can’t let her down. My kids are well on their way. Now, I have another mission before me.
Before becoming a mom, I taught a Health Science Course to 7th graders and a few sections of Physical Education to 7th and 8th graders. At the same time, I volunteered with the American Cancer Society and became our chapter’s Nutrition Coordinator. Thanks, Mom!
Now, I’m on a mission to share what I have learned about human health – from books, doctors, scientists and university professors, from my own experiences, and – yes – from Mom.
Here’s to your good health!