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Shaping Up Shelby: Shelby woman finds she has to run for her life

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Chandra Heath was facing a heritage of health problems, and she had only one recourse: Get moving on the road to good health. This is her story.

By Lisa King

What motivates Chandra Heath to get up every morning hours before dawn to run five miles?

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Her love for her family, she says.

“I want to be there for them, and I always want to be healthy enough to give them a good quality of life,” she said.

Heath and her husband, Jeremiah, have two young children, ages 2 and 3 years old.

Even though young, still in her 30s, after her daughter Amara was born, Chandra Heath said she found herself out of shape and overweight. That’s not an unusual condition for a woman who has birthed two children in close succession, but Heath had an added worry.

“My family history is full of health problems,” she said. “There are a lot of issues with heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, pretty much everything.”

Heath talked about her concerns with her physician, who advised her that the only thing she could do to overcome such an alarming family medical history simply was to strive to become as healthy as possible.

“For me, that meant getting fit and getting my BMI [body mass index] to a healthy place and learning not only to eat healthy but to get my kids started out right on a healthy lifestyle,” she said.

So Heath set out to lose her post-pregnancy weight and ended up losing 30-plus pounds in about a year. She also ended up surprising herself by the enthusiasm she picked up for running, something she had never practiced to any great degree.

“Prior to June, I had never run more than a mile [at a time] in my life,” she said.

Heath had been working with elliptical machines, and then she decided she wanted to try the treadmill, which she didn’t really enjoy. But that experiment led to the real thing.

“I started running, and before I knew it, I had done two miles, and I thought, ‘Wow, I can really do this!’ And it just snowballed from there. Now I run from five to seven miles a day, anywhere from five to seven mornings a week.”

She also takes Zumba and what she calls a step class, which involves going up and down portable steps.

She credits her husband, who is director of the Family Activity Center, and her running buddy, Joni Husband, with encouraging her.

“Jeremiah’s great; he’s so supportive,” she said. “When I got home from work the other night, he had dinner ready, and he said, ‘I know you have to go to Zumba, so I have already fed the kids.’ I can’t say enough about what a great guy he is.”

Heath said his wife’s health takes top priority with him.

“It’s really important to me because I want her around for a long time,” he said. “And when she works out, she has a great time, and I love to see her happy.”

Heath said it was a struggle at first, but it was worth it.

How did she do it?

“You have to start out slow and create small, attainable goals, like every time I lost five pounds, I would reward myself with a movie or a night out with the girls or a dress-up date with my husband,” she said.

“I eat healthy now, but I’m not doing it for weight loss anymore,” she said. “It’s for my heath. My plan is everything in moderation. I try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I avoid fried foods and eating out often.”

That healthy outlook is something she and Jeremiah have tried to pass along to their children, she said.

“We talk to our kids about exercise, so they will understand the importance of it,” she said. “We tell them, you are going to go run and play with your friends, and mommy and daddy are going to go to the gym and exercise. But we call it daddy’s office.”

She even exercises with her son, Atreyu, 3.

“He and I will run up and down the street, because he knows mommy likes to run,” he said.

Heath said another thing that helps her to stay motivated is her workout friends, her running buddy and the people in her step class.

“Building those relationships is so special,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t really feel like exercising, but your friends are there, so you don’t want to miss. And sometimes I don’t feel like getting up at five o’clock in the morning to run, but I don’t want to let Joni down.

“The other day we started running – we run down the bypass – and it started pouring down rain. We looked at each other and said, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ And she said, ‘What else, we run back in the rain!’

“So we started laughing, and kept on right on running in the rain. It was great!”