Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Other Voices : Cult of Opportunity

Shawn at the Silicon Labs relays

I've known Shawn for a number of years and I consider him a good friend - he's quietly spoken, very humble, and (despite what he claims) a naturally gifted all-round athlete. We've run on a few successful relay teams together, and he's a good guy to hang out with over a few beers. He also laughs at (most of) my jokes!!!

He's been the driving force behind the establishment of a health and wellness program at our workplace with a particular interest in finding ways to encourage sedentary folks to get off the couch and exercise. He's recently quit the traditional run, bike and swim in favor of seeking out alternative fitness methods (though I still suspect he's training in secret - dang hustler).

Swimmer, triathlete, spin bike coach, all-round good guy - here's Shawn in his own words.

Cult of Opportunity
by Shawn Thomas
After my older sister received an invitation to be on the local swim team, I became a competitive swimmer. When I started, I was not the fastest swimmer in the pool, in fact, more often than not, I was literally the slowest. I had never been the healthiest or strongest kid in school and was generally unremarkable as an athlete, but somehow, because of the grace of good people, I was lucky enough to be accepted as a part of a team that pushed me to overcome my challenges and eventually excel. I started swimming competitively at age 11, and I ended my career a full ten years later as a fairly successful athlete following my last year in college.

For a few years after college, while I was in grad school I worked out only sporadically and stayed thin largely due to genes and a lack of funding. I knew I wanted to get back to fitness, but whatever it was that I needed to get me going again wasn’t there. It finally came in the form of a triathlete girlfriend who made me run, and got me back in the pool and on a bike. I still remember not so fondly the first mile I ran and my first 7 mile trek on a bike. Both experiences were filled with thoughts of how much farther I had to go, plenty of glances at my watch, and complete amazement that 30 seconds could take so long.

Though that girlfriend is no longer a part of my life, the athleticism she turned me back onto is. The point of this long introduction to my experience with fitness is that I would not have done it without the influence and support of others. And I’m pretty sure that literally every other healthy and fit person on this planet can describe similar situations. What I’m talking about boils down to the existence of opportunity. In his most recent book "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell shows readers that opportunity is an absolutely necessary ingredient for success in any endeavor.

At the Texas Education Agency, a handful of very special people came together last year to find ways to create opportunities, such as the ones I was the benefactor of, for our coworkers to improve the quality of their health and fitness. We created a wellness program with the goal of establishing at the agency a culture of wellness that would influence and support all employees of the agency in their efforts to get and/or stay on the path to improved wellness. Through my involvement in this effort, I’ve learned that wellness is a multifaceted process that can challenge even the most successful athletes. It involves not only fitness, but also nutrition, health behaviors such as maintaining relationships with health care providers, addiction management, stress reduction, and mental health maintenance. I’ve also learned that the opportunities that worked for me will not work for all others. Every individual faces unique challenges and subsequently needs a unique set of opportunities.

No one in this world can claim that they have the perfect set of behaviors and know everything there is to know about being healthy and fit, so absolutely everyone can benefit from being part of a group that endeavors to share their experiences and support. As I mentioned before, the primary goal of the TEA wellness program is to create a culture of wellness. A culture is defined as the attitudes and behaviors characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. The culture we wish to create is described in terms of the attitudes and behaviors characteristic of a group of individuals that are engaged in the process of becoming aware of and practicing healthy choices to create more successful and balanced lifestyles. The creation of this culture is our primary goal because it will lay a foundation that will allow all of the agency’s employees to tap into the incredible power that is found in the unique experiences of a group of individuals, experiences that will help us create the opportunities through which a wide range of people who are facing a wide range of challenges may succeed.

No comments: