The fifth Healthy U class graduated Thursday night during A Night of Inspiration, and the Class of 2016 winner is taking that phrase to heart with her journey.
Overall, the Class of 2016 lost a total of roughly 515 pounds. Dawn McNeeley, of Smithton, was named the top student, losing 83.6 pounds and 106 inches during her year-long journey. Taylor Thomas, of Sedalia, placed second, losing 51.4 pounds and 76.5 inches.
After Thursday’s ceremony, McNeeley told the Democrat completing that journey “feels empowering.”
“It feels great,” McNeeley said of winning Healthy U 2016. “It feels amazing to be able to take the knowledge and the strategies shared with me by my coaches and know that they taught me well enough that I can go out and do it on my own now.”
McNeeley’s fitness coaches were Emma Crowley and Ivan Puga of Anytime Fitness and her nutrition coach was Stephanie Deveau of the Pettis County Health Center.
“I’m so happy for her, she deserves it beyond a doubt,” Crowley said of McNeeley winning. “I am overwhelmed to have been a part of it, it was such an unbelievably wonderful experience.”
McNeeley said she faced some challenges during 2016, such as finding out she has arthritis, but Crowley said McNeeley made it through whatever she was faced with.
“I’ve been training for about five years and (McNeeley) was probably one of the most optimistic people I’ve had to deal with,” Crowley said. “Whatever challenge she got put in front of her, and there were many, she always overcame them with a smile on her face and she came out stronger, which was incredible. It was an incredible journey to watch and be a part of.”
“I’ve had the motto that this is something I’m needing to sustain for my life so I knew I needed to be able to continue even after this year (with Healthy U) is over,” McNeeley said. “So that’s what I’ve been working towards is being able to work those strategies into my everyday life and be able to continue those.”
McNeeley is the principal at Smithton Elementary and she even helped incorporate her new healthy lifestyle in her school district and community with a fall family fun night focused on health, nutrition and fitness. The district partnered with community agencies to bring some of the knowledge McNeeley had gained to the community of Smithton.
“It’s all about inspiring others and that’s what I truly tried to do this whole journey,” McNeeley said of why she wanted to bring Healthy U to Smithton. “I’ve shared my story out on Facebook and really whoever wants to ask, and so if I can inspire others, whether it’s my students, community, friends, I’ll take every opportunity to do that.”
Thursday’s event also included announcing the Healthy U Class of 2017 and their fitness mentors and nutrition coaches. The 12 new students are Stephanie Wooldridge, Adam Thornton, Hilliary Owens, Ashley Newton, James Reed, Lucas Sheeley, Carol Cusick, Tammy Martin, Lisa Everhart, Tisha Sparks, Rachel Whanger and Becky Williams, and they will begin their Healthy U journey with evaluations Jan. 14.
The 10 other applicants who were interviewed but not chosen as students have the opportunity to join Healthy U 2 and be mentored by the Class of 2016.
McNeeley offered some advice to all 22 people.
“Make it something that is going to be their lifestyle, not a quick fix or a fad. Something they can do and sustain for their lifetime,” she said. “I would encourage them to take every bit of knowledge and wisdom from their coaches and alumni and incorporate that as much as they can into their life. And to have fun.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.