What do a former motorcycle dealership owner and MBA candidate, a marine scientist, and an emergency management consultant have in common? While their day jobs might be vastly different, they are all volunteer firefighters who have just been named the winners of the first Search for Cardioviva Heart Health Champions contest.
Heart attacks account for more than half of on-duty firefighter deaths. To encourage exercise, a nutritious diet, and other healthy behaviors among firefighters, Cardioviva, the first natural probiotic clinically proven to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels in adults, teamed up with the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) to conduct a nationwide search for three heart health champions.
The search puts the spotlight on firefighters who are not only taking care of their own health, but who are also motivating their brethren and communities to live healthier lifestyles. The winners will receive a combined total of $30,000 in cash and prizes so that they can continue their efforts and educate emergency responders–and the communities they serve–on how they can proactively protect themselves against heart disease. After a nationwide search and public voting to narrow the field down to the top 10 finalists, a panel of judges consisting of heart health, fire, and nutrition/fitness experts selected the following three winners:
Grand Prize Winner: Peggy Smith, Coolin-Cavanaugh Bay Fire Company, Coolin, Idaho
Peggy is the chief of her firehouse in the rural Idaho resort town of Coolin, about 25 miles from the Canadian border. Also known as the Priest Lake area, Coolin has a year-round population of 350, but can soar as high as 25,000 during peak tourist times. Peggy started volunteering after a harrowing experience spending a long, cold winter night out on a mountain with her husband after he broke his leg. After this incident, Peggy made it her mission to volunteer and give back to the community. She created a back country snowmobile rescue team, and was then recruited to be part of the volunteer fire department. Under her leadership as Chief for the last three years, the department has grown from three members to 35.
As Peggy began to take on more of the administrative side of her duties while studying for her MBA and taking the exclusive National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program, she became more sedentary. Her weight and cholesterol numbers skyrocketed. She wanted to improve her own health and also motivate the other volunteers to maintain their health so they would be less prone to injury. Peggy and her team began a wellness program, which includes group exercise classes with an instructor four times a week, with nutrition counseling available on request.
“As part of winning the Search for Cardioviva Heart Health Champions contest, I want our fire department to be a healthy example for other emergency responders as well as consumers,” said Peggy. “By showing how I am tackling my own weight and cholesterol issues by eating healthfully and exercising regularly, I hope to be a positive role model and inspire others to reduce their risk of heart disease.”
As the grand prize winner, Peggy’s firehouse will receive $10,000 in cash, plus donated TRX FORCE kits and additional exercise equipment (valued at $5,000), as well as a nutrition and fitness makeover with Chris Mohr, RD, PhD, a nationally-known sports nutritionist. Peggy plans to use the prize money as the foundation to sustain the firehouse’s wellness program for many years to come, and to attract other members in the community to volunteer.
First Prize: Thomas Gulbransen, Setauket Fire Department, Company 1, Setauket, NY
While his fulltime job is a marine scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute in Setauket, Tom still tries to average at least one call a day as a volunteer firefighter for the Setauket Fire Department, Company 1.
Firefighting is in Tom’s DNA. His grandfather was a charter member of Rescue Company 4 in New York City and his brother was a decorated firefighter in Brooklyn. Tom began as a volunteer firefighter in 1982 and has been with his current company for the last 15 years, currently serving as a first lieutenant.
Motivated by his father’s commitment to staying physically fit and coaching others in marathon training, Tom and a cadre of firefighter runners started a health and wellness committee at their firehouse. Tom wants to continue his father’s legacy and be a good role model and coach to his department.
“I am proud to be a Cardioviva Heart Health Champion because it is essential that older folks like me keep tuned up or we’ll break down. Between processed foods, desk jobs, frequent adrenaline jolts, and repeated smoke exposure, the battle to improve health is relentless,” said Tom. “We need to retain every viable member who can endure the physical and mental toll of being a volunteer firefighter or EMT, and we can only do this if we are operating at our full potential.”
As a first place winner, Tom’s department will receive $5,000 for his firehouse, as well as a nutrition and fitness makeover, including $2,500 of fitness equipment and donated TRX FORCE kits, for Company 1. He looks forward to helping department members by combining fitness training motivation with expert advice on nutrition and food choices.
First Prize: William Moorhead, Duncan Chapel Fire Department, Greenville, SC
After providing assistance to his father who suffered a sudden heart attack at age 49 when Will was just in high school, Will became interested in emergency management and firefighting, and has been a volunteer ever since. Now 70, his father is healthy and has spent the past 20 years as an inspiration for living a healthy lifestyle and as Will’s fellow firefighter.
When Will saw his own cholesterol rising, he adopted a predominantly plant-based, whole foods diet and saw a 30-point drop in his cholesterol. He hopes to inspire others within the emergency services community to be fit so they can safely respond and provide assistance.
While Will’s fulltime job is running an Emergency Management Consulting firm, he supplements his career by volunteering with two fire departments and utilizes his law degree as an instructor in graduate and undergraduate emergency services related programs.
“Being a Cardioviva Heart Health Champion gives us a platform to share the work we doing as a department with the community,” said Will. “I am excited to share what we learn as part of the contest’s nutrition and fitness makeover with the public during our community days, where we can invite them to try healthy food samples and demonstrate easy ways to stay fit with our new exercise equipment.”
As a first-place winner, Will’s department will receives a $5,000 cash prize and $2,500 worth of exercise equipment including TRX FORCE kits, along with a nutrition and fitness makeover.