Sweat Diaries: This Nonprofit Director Wakes Up at 4:30 a.m. to Swim

Jennifer Thomas Davis tries to practice what she preaches via the American Heart Association.

swim session

American Heart Association executive director Jennifer Thomas Davis wakes up at the crack of dawn to get her swim practice in. / Photograph courtesy Getty Images

Who I am: Jennifer Thomas Davis, 45, from Haddonfield, New Jersey

What I do: I am the executive director and senior vice president of the American Heart Association in Philadelphia.

What role healthy living plays in my life: Healthy living is the undercurrent of everything I do and every choice I make. The American Heart Association’s mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, and I try my best to live that mission every day. I prioritize healthy eating and make time to exercise regularly.

Health memberships: Jersey Wahoos Swim Club for $100 per month.


swim session

Davis and her family ate homemade chickpea stew for dinner. / Photograph courtesy Jennifer Thomas Davis

8 a.m. — I have an early morning “thank you” breakfast with the leaders of Einstein Healthcare Network, one of the largest fundraisers for the 2018 Philadelphia Heart Walk. They’ve got yogurt parfaits with fruit and granola — one of my favorite meals!

Noon — I prepped vegetable soup over the weekend, and I have the leftovers for lunch.

1 p.m. — I run over to the 25th District Center for the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia to oversee a cooking class we’re hosting for food-insecure families. We have great turnout!

3:30 p.m. — I’m on back-to-back phone calls this afternoon, so I’ve got some unsalted almonds to tide me over.

6 p.m. —  I head home to take my two kids to swim practice. After they’re done, we dig into dinner as a family: golden chickpea stew with quinoa, tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and chickpeas.

Daily total: $0


swim session

Davis tries to eat healthy even when she doesn’t have time for a full breakfast. / Photograph courtesy Jennifer Thomas Davis

4:30 a.m. — Wake up to swim with my Master’s team. [Master’s teams are swim teams for those 18 and older.] I typically swim about two miles three times a week. It’s my favorite way to get my heart pumping and start the day.

8 a.m. — I don’t have a lot of time for breakfast this morning, but I manage to grab a yogurt and some unsalted almonds.

9 a.m. — Meeting with a board member to explore national funding opportunities for our research networks.

11 a.m. — Meeting with Philly-based food rescue organization Philabundance to talk about similar goals and priorities, specifically around food insecurity.

Noon — Soup again — yum!

1 p.m. — Phone call with our headquarters about upcoming plans for National Heart Month (February). Any time I’m stuck in my office on phone calls, I try to take them at my standing desk.

3 p.m. — Meeting with a subcommittee of Together for West Philadelphia, a collaborative that develops projects to improve the health of West Philly residents.

7 p.m. — We make family dinner at home: eggplant parmesan, pasta with homemade tomato sauce, and salad with balsamic dressing.

Daily total: $0


swim session

Davis poses for a photo op at a hands-only CPR in Schools event. / Photograph courtesy Jennifer Thomas Davis

4:30 a.m. — Another early morning swim session with my Master’s team of two miles.

6 a.m. — I have just enough time to whip together a smoothie — of spinach, blueberries, strawberries, and some protein powder — before I run out the door.

8 a.m. — Breakfast meeting with the 2019 Heart Ball executive leadership team to discuss our fundraising progress for the annual gala. We bring in yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit for the board to make sure they get a healthy breakfast.

Noon — Reheat chickpea stew leftovers for lunch.

1:30 p.m. — I head over to the Philadelphia public school offices for a hands-only CPR in Schools gifting ceremony. [Hands-only CPR is when you resuscitate someone without mouth-to-mouth breaths.] With support from our sponsors, the Heart Association was able to donate 13 hands-only CPR training kits to the school district. They’ll be distributed among high schools to help them reach their goal of training every student in CPR before graduation.

2 p.m. — Brief interview with a KYW TKradio reporter about the CPR in Schools donation and the impact hands-only CPR can make on Philadelphia’s cardiac arrest survival rate.

4 p.m. — Snack time! I’ve got an apple and RXBar to tide me over until dinner.

5 p.m. — I’ve got some time to kill before a dinner meeting, so I manage to squeeze in some errands on foot while fielding phone calls. I try to walk at least 30 minutes each day, which is easier to do when I’m at our office in Center City.

7:30 p.m. — Dinner meeting with an incredible heart survivor who volunteers with the Heart Association and is working on building a survivor volunteer network. We go to Main and Vine in Villanova. I order the cioppino, a delicious Italian seafood stew. So good!

Daily total: $32.18


swim session

Davis’ favorite Sweetgreen salad is the spinach pesto parmesan. / Photograph courtesy Jennifer Thomas Davis

4:30 a.m. — Back at the pool for another early morning swim session with my Master’s team of two miles.

8 a.m. — Have some time to make oatmeal with banana and peanut butter.

11:30 a.m. — Lunch meeting with the CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos. We’re working to launch a new initiative called “Eat to Live,” a food subscription program for people living with hypertension in the Kensington neighborhood.

1 p.m. — I run over to Sweetgreen for my favorite salad, the spinach pesto parmesan bowl.

4 p.m. — I meet with our communications team about sharing my personal connection to the organization in our weekly employee newsletter. My father passed away when I was young from a heart attack, and losing him motivates me to do my best to prevent other families from being torn apart by heart disease.

6 p.m. — I head home to take my son to his weekly indoor travel soccer practice. After practice, we grab a pizza to bring home with loads of arugula, artichokes, and some goat cheese.

Daily total: $27.05 


swim session

Davis and her family celebrated the week with a dinner out at Central Taco and Tequila. / Photograph courtesy Jennifer Thomas Davis

9 a.m. — Oatmeal with banana and peanut butter again.

Noon — Lunch meeting with a major philanthropist to explore funding opportunities for the Southwest Philadelphia Health Initiative, through which we’re working to establish regular farmers markets and free blood pressure screenings for residents. I order a salad of mixed greens.

2:30 p.m. — Head back to the office for an employee appreciation event. Heart Month/February is often one of our busiest months, so it’s important we take time to recognize the hard work everyone is doing. We’re making Valentines for volunteers and donors. I treat myself to a few pieces of dark chocolate.

6 p.m. — I head home, and we go out to eat at Central Taco and Tequila in Haddon Township as a family to cap off a great week. I order shrimp, and we get chips and guacamole for the table. Delicious!

Daily total: $42.50


Weekly Totals

Money spent: $101.73 

Meetings: 8

Swim sessions: 3

Steps walked: 45,031

Servings of veggies: 23

Let’s get social! Join Be Well Philly at: