Go Red Luncheon Combines Education With Celebration
Madison, Wisconsin - They walked up to the stage on a red carpet, rolled out over the ballroom's Cherokee red floor.
As videos of their 12-week journeys played on screens up on the wall, hundreds of heart-shaped pins blinked red through the darkness.
Yes, red certainly was the color at Madison's fifth annual Go Red for Women luncheon April 7 at Monona Terrace.
The event provided more than 300 guests education about preventing heart disease and served as a fundraiser for the Go Red program, but primarily it was a celebration of the 13 women who participated in the "Girlfriends Challenge” on one of four teams.
With advice and support from UW Health experts, the four teams of Girlfriends saw that they could make changes to improve their heart health. They lowered their cholesterol levels by an average 12 points, and between them lost 26½ inches off their waists.
"As we listen to so many of the stories here, it is doable," said Vonda Shaw, the manager of the UW Health Preventive Cardiology program. "It really becomes an issue of becoming aware of what they can do and also making small changes. You've heard them talk about just increasing their level of physical activity or incorporating fruits and vegetables; those types of small changes really can become permanent lifestyle habits that can reduce the risk of heart disease.
"These ladies have just done an awesome job in a few short weeks, and I can't wait to see what happens over longer term."
Girlfriends More Than Up to the Challenge
The Girlfriends had different reasons for wanting to be involved in the Challenge.
Some were motivated by their families, wanting to make sure they would be able to enjoy long, healthy lives with their spouses and children. Several tearfully recalled stories of their loved ones dying early deaths because of heart disease. Others wanted to lose weight and get back into shape.
In the end, they all spoke of increased feelings of self-worth and self-confidence stemming from success.
"This Challenge has proven to me that it's never too late," Barb Meister said. "You can learn to eat healthier, you can learn to like exercise. ... This whole Challenge I think has just given me so much, it's given me a second chance, it's given me my life back. It's been the most positive thing I've done."
Pat Swartout, one of Meister's teammates on the Red Rockers team - a trio of women employed by the Rock County Sheriff's Office and County Jail - also stressed the mental side of improving heart health.
"Women need to take heart disease very seriously," Swartout said. "Bad habits are really hard to break. But hard doesn't mean impossible. Support is out there; you don't have to do it alone."
In addition to Shaw, a clinical exercise physiologist who has worked in the UW Health Preventive Cardiology program for the past 18 years, the Girlfriends received guidance from nutrition coordinator Gail Underbakke, cardiologist Mary Zasadil, psychologist Shilagh Mirgain, exercise physiologist Megan Renneberg and Mindfulness Program manager Katherine Bonus. Mona Mels, the owner and director of Studio Melt and a health and fitness professional, also provided assistance to the group.
"I wish every woman in Wisconsin could do this program," said Deb Schroeder, a member of the Crimson Goddesses team. "We'd be No. 1 in heart health if everyone could."
That was a big message at the luncheon: Spreading the word.
Pamela Atwood of Atwood Associates, a co-chair of the event along with Ginger Zimmerman of Murphy Desmond S.C., challenged each attendee to bring five women into the Go Red program.
The third member of the Red Rockers, Rhoda Grosenick, has taken that idea to another level. She's preparing to hold a five-week session on exercise and heart-healthy eating habits with one group and has been asked to give a talk to the Ladies of Harley in Janesville.
"This isn't the end," Grosenick said, "it's the beginning."
Focused On Improving Heart Health
Before a heart-healthy lunch of chicken with asparagus and a fruit salad was served, the luncheon began with opportunities for attendees to get some of the first-hand guidance the Girlfriends received during the Challenge.
Couve provides as much calcium as a cup of milk and half the recommended Vitamin C for a day and is rich in the anti-oxidant lutein. Shrimp, meanwhile, is nearly fat-free and is relatively low in cholesterol.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the ballroom, Karla Bock of the UW Health Fitness Center demonstrated several ways to incorporate exercise into everyday life.
"It doesn't have to be extensively hard, it doesn't have to be this big, fancy program or a time-consuming effort," said Bock, who demonstrated exercises using balance balls and stretch bands. "It can just be little things throughout the day. Try to make it as easy as possible.
"I think what's important is to keep it interesting and to keep it fun."
In between Marks' mini-kitchen and Bock's exercise area, a silent auction was held to raise money for the Go Red program.
Among the 84 items up for bid were Wisconsin Badgers football and basketball tickets, a football autographed by the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, a red and white bicycle and a private cooking lesson with Marks.
While the tone of the day was a positive one, UW Hospital and Clinics President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky offered a sobering reminder as she wrapped up the festivities.
"In the time you have attended today's luncheon, 240 women have died from heart disease," said Katen-Bahensky, who is on the American Heart Association's Midwest Affiliate Board of Directors. "And out of the 325 people in attendance at today's luncheon, 108 of you will be affected directly by heart disease in your lifetime. That is three people seated at each of your tables.
"There is still so much more to be done."
That goes for education, too: Heart disease is the top cause of death of women in the United States, but surveys show that only one in five women believe that fact.
Date Published: 04/18/2011