Meet a Health Hero: Colleen McCauley

Colleen McCauley

Colleen McCauley

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Name: Colleen McCauley

Occupation: Health policy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
I am lucky because as a kid I found a fun way to help me stay healthy that I still practice to this day. Around third grade my gym teacher noticed that I might enjoy dancing, so my parents signed me up for ballet class. Thirty-five years later, I’m still in class every week. In fact, at 39 weeks pregnant with my son, I was plie-ing at the bar in ballet class! As a nurse by training, I “know better” about exercising and eating right, and I feel good when I’m fueling my body with more nutrient-dense foods and working up a sweat – and having a fiancé who is a personal trainer is definitely a bonus.

Describe a health or fitness related turning point in your life.
After a year of trying, my eight-year-old son finally learned how to ride a bike. I figured I’d get a used bike to tool around with him in the park near our house. After a couple rides, I quickly got back in touch with just how much I love to bike. I lived on my bike in high school, but when I moved to Philly for college, I stopped riding. Why in the world had I waited more than 20 years to get back in the saddle?! Within three months of us getting our bikes, my son and I completed a 20-mile Covered Bridge Ride in Bucks County, and three years later I’m riding my bike to work almost every day no matter the season—and with my son in tow during the summer to drop him off at camp.

What “policy” would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
I think we have to do a much better job paying attention to our mental health. Too many adults and children in the region have experienced trauma, depression and aggression in their lives, and because of stigma and fear we don’t talk enough about it, so it goes undetected and untreated. Then we lament the people killed by individuals with mental illness or people who take their own lives because of their fractured state of mind. For nine years I worked in a nurse-run health center that provided both physical and mental health-care services, and making a commitment to assess and address both types of needs had a profound, positive impact for many patients. I think pediatricians and primary-care providers should assess their patients’ mental health status at least once a year during routine visits, more frequently if warranted, and refer patients for treatment as necessary. If we don’t ask, folks often don’t tell.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
Variety is probably the most important part of my fitness regimen. I need to mix things up to help me keep moving. I dance, bike, spin, do Zumba and some high-intensity interval training to keep things interesting.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice?
You can make a significant difference in a child’s life—your own or someone else’s—by helping them find a fun way to be healthy and active. I’ve been a volunteer nurse with Students Run Philly style since its inception 10 years ago, a program that has taught 4,000 youth how to run long distances—including the Philadelphia Marathon. I am not even a runner, but I contribute my skills so that the students and their volunteer running leaders/coaches stay as safe and healthy at their competitions as possible. Some of the kids find the program such a great match that once they’ve graduated high school, they return as running leaders to shepherd the next group of students in the program. You can give children the gift of life-long health by engaging them at a young age in fun ways to be healthy.

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