Meet a Health Hero: Joann Fegley

Read more about the Schuylkill Dragons coach Joann Fegley, a semi-finalist in our 2013 Health Hero Challenge!

>> You can vote for Joann on our Facebook page September 24-30. Mark your calendar!

Name: Joann Fegley

Occupation: Coach of the Schuylkill Dragons Women’s Dragon Boat Team

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
My motivation to be healthy started back when I was kid. My mom would do her best on a tight budget to make healthy, well balanced meals for us and talked about the importance of eating well. As an adult, it gets harder to stay motivated. But as a coach I want to be, as my mom was for me, a good role model. My team motivates me to keep myself fit and stay healthy; I want to reinforce what I coach by doing it myself. I also just feel better overall when I take care of myself by eating well and staying active.

Describe a health or fitness related turning point in your life.
There are always little moments in life that make you think and at times prompt a change. A fitness change that was a big turning point in my life was in the fall of 2003; that’s when I met this group of amazing women who were the members of the Schuylkill Dragons. I had been struggling with a work, life and fitness balance. I had just started a new job and was focused on my new career. I had also been diagnosed a few years earlier with a chronic knee injury, and was advised to not do any type of impact training. I had no intentions of joining the Schuylkill Dragons. I had gone to a fundraiser and learned about the sport of dragon boating, but with my focus on my career, and having both physical and time limitations, I didn’t think I could add anything new to my schedule. A coworker was interested in the team and the sport, so I agreed to go with her to a team workout being held at 12th Street Gym. I showed up on time and ready to hide in the corner and support my coworker. Well, she never showed up.

There were three women who were there with the team that came over to me and introduced me to their teammates and the coach at that time. They encouraged me to get on the paddle-adapted concept 2 rowing machine. Next thing I know, I’m doing a 500 meter fitness test. I hadn’t pushed myself to work that hard in a long time, and the best part was that it didn’t matter how well I did, they were standing there cheering me on. They had never met me but they welcomed me and supported me to do nothing more than try my best. After that, I joined the Schuylkill Dragons, and I worked hard to become more fit. When there are 19 other paddlers in the boat who are counting on you to do your best to help them make the boat move, it’s hard not to become inspired!

From there I just kept working harder, I got a second and third opinion on my knee injury and was told that I could run and exercise in ways that impacted it as long as I didn’t overdo it. This team of women inspired me to become stronger and fitter, so much so that I began to study fitness and periodization, which lead to me becoming certified in both personal training and group-fitness instruction—which lead to me become an assistant coach for the team and then coach. The women of the Schuylkill Dragons changed my life. I became fitter, healthier and more confident. Now as their coach, I work really hard to give all those benefits back to them.

What “policy” would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
A policy that I would love to see the Greater Philadelphia area institute to make it a healthier region would be a way to help promote and fund groups that have formed as small non-profits to help raise fitness and health. An online social forum, or something along those lines, could organize and promote local fitness options so Philadelphians know what is out there, and can find a program that meets their needs. Promoting fitness for both kids and adults and presenting it through the lens of a variety of fun activities, with plenty of encouragement, will get more people involved and motivated to become healthier. The Schuylkill Dragons, and dragon boat teams in general, are great community fitness tools because sometimes people need encouragement and social motivation to find their fitness drive. Philly Girls in Motion is also one of those programs—Beth Devine runs girls’ fitness and nutritional counseling groups out of some rec centers in Philly, and the program gets its young members introduced to and enthusiastic about new types of exercise: CrossFit, yoga, Zumba, running. The Schuylkill Dragons are working to get the PGIM girls out in dragon boats, too.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
The most important part of my fitness regimen is keeping my mental focus. I am a perfectionist, which means that I frustrate myself often. I battle with my mind daily. And I have to push myself to stay focused on the bigger picture. If I can’t work in a full workout as I had planned, I have to allow it to be okay to do a shorter workout. Otherwise, I am a perfect example of Voltaire’s “perfect is the enemy of good,” in that I will talk myself out of doing something if I can’t do it perfectly the way I see it, which in the end isn’t the best method. If I allow that piece to creep in, I end up doing nothing. Then I feel guilty and beat myself up about it and it turns into this circular thing. So I am learning to keep myself focused on the bigger picture which is my overall health and am learning to allow myself to accept that it’s okay if it’s not perfect; it’s still better than nothing at all.

What is your number one piece of health related advice?
My number one piece of health advice is directed to anyone who feels they are not able to do it—whatever “it” is. I have had many people say to me, “I can’t do that.”  My advice is simple:  Just try it. You may not be able to perform at the level you want, but try it at a level that you can achieve and build on it.  For example, you want to run a 10K race, but you aren’t a runner or think you are too overweight or out of shape. Pick a 5K race that’s a few months away or even a year away, and sign up for it. Commit to doing it. Then start out in manageable chunks. If you’re not a runner, start out by walking, set a goal—like, “Today I will walk for 15 minutes”—then build on that. “Next week I will walk for 1 mile.” Then increase that to, “I will jog for 5 minutes and then walk for 20 minutes.” Take those manageable steps and you will achieve your goal!