Meet Our Health Hero Challenge Finalists!

Your votes determined the finalists in our first-ever Health Hero Challenge. Read on to see who made it through.

After a month of some serious competition—and nearly 5,000 votes (!)—we’re super psyched to announce the four finalists in the Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge.

If you’re new to the contest, here’s what we’ve been up to: Earlier this summer we asked readers to nominate people who they think are Health Heroes—champions of health and fitness in the Philadelphia region. We were looking for folks who work hard to help others in their community be healthy, fit and well. After poring through nearly 500 nominations, the editors of Philadelphia magazine narrowed the pool to 16 semi-finalists. Then, last month, we opened it up to reader voting, and through a series of four-against-four voting rounds, your votes determined the four finalists. On October 16th, the finals will officially begin; you can cast your vote over on our Facebook page then.

Got it? Awesome.

And now, without further ado, here are the four finalists in the Health Hero Challenge:

Heather McDanel
Director and founder, Students Run Philly Style

What motivates you to be healthy?

Being active and staying healthy to keep one’s mind sharp was a big part of my family’s culture when I grew up. I was raised in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania where we spent a lot of our time outside playing games like kickball, Wiffle Ball, tag and other playground games. Being active and healthy has always been a part of me. When I think of my life now, I’m motivated by the work I do with Students Run Philly Style, a program in Philadelphia that enables young people to realize their dreams through distance running. Every day, I work with regular kids who don’t think of themselves as athletes, but who have completed a marathon or are in the middle of training for a marathon. The courage they demonstrate in setting such a goal and the effort they put in to reach it are impressive.

Chris Marino
Owner and personal trainer, Marino’s Body Shop

What “policy” would you institute to make Philadelphia a healthier city?

We need more “community champions” for healthy lifestyles to inspire local communities to be active and make healthier food choices. Having organized support from government leaders and local businesses could go a long way towards encouraging self-responsibility. Let’s face it: Government policies that restrict restaurants from using salt or putting a tax on sugary beverages might actually be effective at cutting medical costs in certain areas, but it’s too unpopular with the public. We need something that people view as positive. The only policy I see working is one that helps create a web where people help and inspire their family, friends and community, ultimately encouraging them to pay it forward (just like the movie). Unfortunately, people will not do this naturally, but they will do it with organization and encouragement. That is a priority for my business as I feel that we’re in a unique position to make a difference not only in our clients but also our community. We’ve organized weekend activities such as trail runs and encouraged our clients to bring their friends and family. We’ve also had a number of clients take on roles with the Girls on the Run program in our community, which organizes training programs to help young girls run their first 5K. A policy that encourages “leading by example” and “paying it forward” is the only solution to our lack of physical activity in this country.

Beth DuPree
Breast surgeon and medical director, Holy Redeemer’s Breast Health Program

Describe a health-related turning point in your life.

I was a varsity athlete through high school and college. Daily exercise and healthy eating was part of my routine until the demands of medical school set in. My time was limited and my fitness level and dietary choices took a plunge. Although I had periods of improving my personal habits, I would slip back into less than stellar wellness behavior at times of stress.

Five and a half years ago, I found a mass in my breast; as a breast-cancer surgeon, it was a wake-up call. I have always made lifestyle improvements as part of my care plan for my patients but was failing to care for the most important in my life: me. Thankfully my mass was benign, not cancer, but I have permanently changed what I eat, how I exercise and how I de-stress.

I decided that I needed to lead my patients by example. I am fitter at 51 than I was at 31. In order to inspire and educate my patients through my foundation, the Healing Consciousness Foundation, we have created lifestyle enhancement programs. These include VMS Thrivers fitness classes (with Vaughn Hebron), Healthy Cooking for Life series of education, yoga, Zumba, Thrivers retreats and meditation.

Stephen Brown
Triathlete, Team in Training coach, and cancer survivor

What motivates you to be healthy?

There are obvious reasons like living a longer, healthier, and happier life. But for me there is a whole additional level of motivation. I am connected with many networks and communities and feel very strongly that I have the ability to use my lifestyle as a means to motivate others to do great things. I like to lead by example and prove to people just what can be done if they believe in something and commit to it. I also want to be healthy for my own family. Years from now, I want my extended family and their friends to watch me race, and have one of the little ones ask, “No way! He is your grandfather??” (Or who knows, maybe even great grandfather.)


You’ll hear a lot more about the finalists in the coming weeks, including which charities they’ll be playing for in the final round. The winner of the contest wins a $2,500 donation for the charity of their choice, so the stakes are high. Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check back on October 16th to cast a vote!