All in: A healthier you, a healthier world

“Are you in?”

There are few words that carry more weight than those fated three. Most often they conjure up images of crazed hooligans about to head out on an ambitious adventure, ensuring each member is willing to participate. Though it appears to be a straightforward, almost slang-like question, its ambiguity is powerful. “Are you in?” asks a lot of its recipient. It is asking whether or not one is truly ready to incur a responsibility. It asks if one is committed to the task at hand. It implies a sense of absolute trust and unfailing faith in a cause worth not just believing in, but acting upon.

Saying “yes,” then, is a pretty big deal, and the stories of those who say “yes” are worth not just telling, but learning from. Ironically, I suppose, many of these stories come from daring outdoors people who brave the elements and push their bodies to extremes because they are “in.” Not only are they “in,” but they are testing the boundaries of what it means to be “in.”

This recurring column, which will be a mixed bag of creative nonfiction, including, but not limited to, commentary, scientific tidbits and personal narratives, will tell those stories, extract their value, and hopefully inspire more. It is meant to put forth challenges and provoke creative solutions. It is a call to action.

What better organization is more suited to present challenges than one with “challenge” in its name?

Mountain Challenge has been inciting goals and initiatives for its staff and students since its inception, and it intends to continue that trend by involving the college and community. It wants us all in.

This year, Mountain Challenge has proposed two particular areas in which to focus its efforts: physical activity and the environment. Where these two entities meet is in the outdoors, hence the recurring theme of the column. Increasing physical activity and raising environmental awareness will be no small feat, but it can be accomplished with the collective efforts of Maryville College and the surrounding community, provided we are all in.

Perhaps it makes sense to start with a story, one that will hopefully further explain what we mean by being all in.

A steady beep beep beep resonated throughout the dark room. The young girl opened her eyes and sat up.

“Already?” she thought.

The soft blue glow of the cheap alarm clock indicated it was, indeed, 6:30 a.m. It was dark; the kind of dark that didn’t differentiate 3 a.m. from 6 a.m. and because it was winter, it would be an hour or more before any light would penetrate the room. She heard the rain coming down outside in droves. A clap of thunder rumbled ever so slightly in the distance, as if it realized it would never be heard amongst the rain and wind and decided to retreat. But the girl got up, not because she had to nor particularly wanted to at the time, but because she was “in.”

She got dressed, threw on a hat and her old trainers that had seen plenty of rainy runs, and headed out the door for yet another. A little more than an hour and a half later, she returned, thoroughly soaked, chilled and raw, but satisfied. She knew she was a little crazy as she hung her jacket over a towel so it wouldn’t drip on the floor and wrung her shirt over the bathtub.

Not many sane people would go out for a long run at six thirty on a cold, dark morning in the pouring rain. But they would if they were enthusiastic, dedicated, and willing to go beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom in order to pursue their passion. They would if they were “in.”

That is what Mountain Challenge asks of its staff members. Being “in” means more than just going along with what we do. It’s about doing what we do. It’s about believing in your passion with enough fervor to pursue it unquestionably. It’s about zeal, but not about fanaticism. It’s about talking and doing, but it’s also about listening and considering. It’s a mind set that embodies the spirit of what Mountain Challenge is all about.

That we want our staff to be fit is a given. It just makes sense given the business we are in. Not being fit has never really been an issue for us because it is simply part of who we are as a company and as individuals.
It is, though, certainly an issue for our participants and classmates. The health crises, namely obesity and its various complications, related to poor lifestyle choices, primarily inactivity, need no introduction. Here the numbers tell us all we need to know: According to the CDC, 35.7% of U.S. adults are obese; 30.8% of Tennessee adults are obese. Obesity cost the country an estimated $147 billion in 2008; it costs Tennessee approximately $6 billion. Some of the most preventable diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, are often complications associated with obesity

That is not good news. But here is some great news: We can help. We are uniquely positioned to have an enormous influence, not just on this campus, but also in the lives of our participants, aka the real world. As pursuers of the ever-elusive endorphin rush, we possess the very knowledge, passion and fortitude required to help reverse the inactivity epidemic.

Being ambassadors of fitness is part of our commitment to social responsibility. We must begin to recognize it as a priority to be instilled within not just our staff, but our campus, corporate clients and, ultimately, the world.

It is a big job. Are you in?

Environmental awareness has always been a priority of Mountain Challenge. It makes sense, given that it’s our office and where we conduct the majority of our business. We take for granted that our staff is equally like-minded and committed to making sustainable choices.

But the rest of the world isn’t as concerned, as evident by heavy reliance on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources, inordinate amounts of waste production, unsustainable food systems, and ecological disruption, among numerous other bad habits.

Though we can spew facts until we are blue in the face, here again the numbers tell a much more effective story. An intergovernmental report on climate change points to these numbers as the scariest. One point six degrees: Earth’s atmospheric temperature change from 1901-2012. 10.2-32 inches: predicted increase in global sea level by 281-2100. 11.7% per decade: rate of decline in June snow in Northern Hemisphere from 1967-2012

We don’t have to be climate scientists to decipher what these numbers say. We can see them, both in our own backyards and across the globe. We could get bogged down with the depressing projections, lamenting about the fall of humanity and the destruction of the planet, but we do not have to.

Because of unfailing commitments to reducing our environmental impact, including our LEED certification that made Crawford House one of the most energy efficient buildings in the world we are purveyors of a wealth of knowledge on sustainability. It is part of our business to educate, explain, and facilitate learning whenever and wherever possible. Environmental awareness is no exception.
It’s a big job. Are you in?

Fitness and the environment are big deals to us. What Mountain Challenge has never directly addressed is the link between these two priorities. It makes sense that taking care of our bodies is inevitably connected to our treatment of the environment.

If we want to play outside, outside has to be there. And if we want outside to be there, we have to reduce our impact on it, much of which can be done on an individual basis with regards to our personal health. They really have gone together all along, but it is time to get vocal about it.
So, are you in?

Then start now. Start now to become a healthier person who can help create a healthier Tennessee, which will create a healthier country and contribute to a healthier world.

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