Aroostook County - For the second year running, the TAMC family is opening up one of their family winter carnival to their extended family: the local community. Competitors will have the opportunity to either dash in freezing temperatures or dive into freezing water for a chance to win cash prizes. 

TAMC

The choice to once again extend the invitation to the public was due in large part to the success of 2014 community participant Kyle Washington, who saw the race as an opportunity to try a different kind of winter sport.  Washington took time away from his duties volunteering at the 2014 IBU World Youth/Junior Biathlon Championships to try his first polar dip.

The 32-year-old, originally from Fort Fairfield, stays physically active and involved in fitness-related community activities year-round. Washington, an information technology professional, first began his journey toward fitness eight years and approximately 100 pounds ago.

“I work in IT, so what I do is primarily cerebral, not to mention lacking in physical activity,” said Washington. “My lifestyle could be summed up as sedentary.  I would spend most of my days at a computer at work, followed by a large meal at home, then more time in front of a computer or the TV.  I felt like I was ‘active’ because I played with the kids and would take a walk every couple of weeks.”

At his highest weight of 290 pounds, Washington said he was inspired to change his lifestyle quite simply by the desire to not be obese anymore. His motivation was derived from two very different sources: one was a simple desire to enjoy the outdoors more, and the other a frightening family history of diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Both his father and paternal grandfather had diabetes and died of heart attacks in their early forties and seventies, respectively.  His maternal grandfather died of a heart attack before he was born.

“This knowledge has always haunted me. I've had that nagging little voice telling me that I can't ignore my likely genetic predisposition to heart issues,” said Washington. It was that same little voice that prompted him to make healthy alterations to his diet. He recalls making a few small dietary changes aside from moderating the quantity, but ate many of the same foods as always, “just in different volume and frequency, and I do eat lots of healthier choices now that I didn’t before.”

These changes in diet were coupled with an increase in exercise.

“It started with family hikes in 2005 on Nordic Heritage Center's trails, which led to a desire to rekindle my love of cycling that began in middle school, but took a back burner to college, marriage, children, and work,” explained Washington when asked how his journey to wellness began. “A trip to the local bike shop, Mojo, had me on a great starter mountain bike the same day.”

Washington started out by riding on local bike trails, soon increasing the distance by making his 13 mile commute to work in Caribou by cycle rather than by automobile. From there, he picked up running, which eventually branched out into experimentation with “ultra-running” (distances longer than 26.2 miles), and triathlons. He also participated in a winter pentathlon in Quebec City.

Over the course of his first year on the path to a healthier lifestyle, Washington was able to lose 80 pounds, though he stresses that he strongly dislikes the term “lose” when it comes to shedding weight.

“That implies that it’s unintentional. I know exactly where and how I dropped those pounds, along with the gallons of sweat and more than a few tears and drops of blood.” He stresses that weight is just a number, illustrated by the fact that he has added significant amounts of muscle, which can make the number on the scale appear to move in the wrong direction. “The heaviest I've ever weighed was about 290 pounds, and my lowest weight, which happens to be the least I've weighed since middle school, was 185 pounds. Since then, I've gone up to about 195 pounds, but I'm leaner than I’ve ever been.”

When asked what advice he had for others looking to take the first step on a wellness-inspired journey, Washington had this to say: “Find your passion.  Find what excites you and what will keep you coming back for more.  Find a community, a group, an organization or even just a friend who will motivate and encourage you. I think most people who are not active just don’t realize just how many choices we have. I've been told that exercise is a buffet.  There are so many choices and you get to choose what to take and leave the rest.  Don't try to force yourself into someone else's mold of how to get active and fit.”

Washington cited several reasons that sparked his interest in participating in the TAMC Red Dress Race and Polar Dip, the primary one being the sense of community that has kept him focused on his journey.  He also said he had been interested in trying a polar dip style event for some time and was intrigued after talking to a friend and TAMC employee who had participated in the past.

“The experience was wonderful.  Everyone who participated or looked on was supportive and cheerful.  It was a very positive atmosphere. I would absolutely do it again, and would love to see this event grow in the future,” he said.

The event requires teams to wear red dresses in support of February being heart health month. A $60 prize is awarded to the team with the best costume, so TAMC encourages participants to use their creativity and even get a little crazy with their outfits. The team which finishes first will earn $70, and the team with the most pledges will earn $80 each.

The benefits of funds raised by the event reach far beyond TAMC.

“It is a priority of not only the Total Health Team, but TAMC as an organization to promote programs and activities that directly benefit our patients and our community as well as our employees. The TAMC Total Health Team directs wellness initiatives externally whenever possible, and the more funds we have to do so, the more of an impact we can make,” said Kelly Gumprecht, senior security analyst at TAMC and chair of the organization’s Total Health Team. “Kyle’s story is a perfect example of how TAMC and the community can be equally and mutually inspiring.”

Similarly to when Washington competed last year, participants in this year’s Red Dress Race and Polar Dip, which will take place on Friday, February 20 at 2 p.m., will run a course around the hospital and plunge into an icy pool, made possible by the Presque Isle Fire Department. Participants will meet in front of the Crown Ambulance bay at the A. R. Gould Memorial Hospital campus prior to the start of the race.

To register for this event or get more information, visit tamc.org. Registration forms are also available for pick up at the main entrance of the A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital.

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