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The Catalyst

The family that weighs together stays together

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relation

Mike and Pam Murray and their children, Marianna and Thomas, are starting 2014 healthier thanks to their efforts with the Healthy Charleston Challenge.  photos provided

Pamela and Mike Murray want to be around a very long time for the sake of their teenage children.

But with weight to lose and the prospect of turning 49 staring at both of them, they felt the need to adopt a healthier lifestyle and serve as better role models for Thomas, 16, and Marianna, 14.

Major changes needed to take place at the Murray house, but they weren’t quite sure where to start.

When family friends mentioned their recent participation in the Healthy Charleston Challenge, it got Pam thinking. Her motto has always been, “If mama doesn’t eat right, nobody eats right,” and she knew there was no way that any of them could make big changes unless they made them together, supporting each other along the way.

She presented an idea to the kids.  “Look,” she said, “Your dad has gained a lot of weight; he’s a heart attack waiting to happen. We’ve got to do something.”

Knowing the entire family could benefit, she asked the kids if they would consider doing the program with her and Mike. They said yes, and for Christmas, Mike received a spot in the challenge as a present. That’s when the fun began.

Family eats pizza together
A gregarious, close–knit family, the Murrays laugh a lot, talk at the same time and frequently finish each other’s sentences. The parents work full time and volunteer frequently. The kids attend Wando High School and participate in numerous activities.  To say their lives are full is an understatement.

Their hectic schedules led to the type of bad eating habits that plague many American families. Their refrigerator and pantry were filled with easy to prepare, processed foods. Exhausted after a full day of work, school and activities, they either ate out, grabbed something on the way home or ordered Meat Lover’s stuffed crust pizza which racks up 500 calories and 27 fat grams per slice.

“I started a new diet every single Monday,” Pam said. “Every Sunday night I’d say, ‘OK, we’re getting healthy this week’ and by Monday night we’d be eating pizza.”

All four share a love of fun and food, which in many ways was synonymous for them. From the moment they registered for the challenge, until the day the program started, they went for the gusto.

A family trip to Pennsylvania over the holidays presented just the opportunity to enjoy their favorite foods in a big way.

“We ate doughnuts every morning,” said Marianna. “Literally every morning,” Thomas added.  Pam shook her head and said, “Obviously we ate everything we wanted over the holidays.”

Walk away from comfort foods
But all that changed on Jan. 16 when they started the challenge. They dutifully cleared the unhealthy foods out their pantry and refrigerator and stocked them instead with vegetables, fruits and more nutritious choices. No more boxed pizza, candy or white bread on their shelves.

Pam said tossing out food was a difficult but important exercise. “It was really hard to see flour, frozen dinners and cereal going in the trash, but it was necessary. This program has been such an eye opener,” she said. “I’ve learned that things I thought I was doing right, I was actually doing wrong.”

As a family, they made a commitment to follow the program faithfully and hold each other accountable. Under the guidance of their trainer, Lauren Wilson, they work out with their team five days a week at 6 p.m. and once on their own for a total of six workouts a week. 

Pam said, “I literally started to cry when I heard 6 p.m. was our workout time. I teach all day, I’m bone–tired, I couldn’t even contemplate exercising when all I wanted to do is sit down with some comfort food and watch TV. Now I look forward to it.”

Mike added, “Let’s face it, 6 p.m. is prime grazing time. Everyone thinks they have no time to exercise. It’s not true, it just has to be a priority. It’s a great time for a family like ours. We get to do something together for an hour six days a week.”

The Murrays are members of HCC’s TrySports team consisting of trainer Lauren Wilson, front row from left, Pam Murray and Thomas Murray. Back Row: Bob Walker, from left, Charlotte Walker, Marianna Murray, Mike Murray, Ches McCall and Curt McCall.

All dogs can learn new tricks
Until recently, Mike traveled and worked constantly. Even when he was home, he was either on the phone or just getting home as his family was going to bed. Now he works from his home office and while busy, he is around for the important things.

Pam, a third–grade teacher, works all day and when she’s not at school functions, chauffeuring kids or attending their activities, she’s grading papers, correcting homework and planning lessons at night. 

Thomas is involved in numerous community initiatives and also plays nose guard on the Wando varsity football team. Even though the season is over, the team still conditions every day — now his day includes two demanding workouts. 

The program has allowed Thomas to gain muscle while losing fat which was what he had hoped to achieve. 

Color guard and winter guard keep Marianna busy. She practices after school nearly every day and travels on weekends competing. She also plays the flute in the Wando concert band.

Even with onerous schedules, they’ve made the program work. And it’s been worth it.

“I feel better about myself. Friends come up and ask me what I’ve done,” Marianna said. “I tell them, ‘I tried this thing called exercising.’ Before, I walked the hallways of Wando thinking that was enough of a workout to earn a piece of cake.”

They’ve also learned so much about portion size and nutrition.

Mike said, “For me, I didn’t realize how much I was eating. I was taking in double the calories I was supposed to. I exercised some, but not enough, and when I looked at the calories I was taking in, no wonder I was gaining a pound or half pound a week. This program has made a big difference.”

Pam agrees and says she enjoys “eating the rainbow,” — incorporating brightly colored fruits and vegetables into their diets. “It makes me conscious at every single meal. Today, I saw an 80–year–old man running. I said to Marianna, ‘That’s who I want to be.’” 

The family team
The Murrays believe if they can make these changes, anyone can. Now in their seventh week of the challenge, they will tell you the improvements they’ve seen physically, mentally and emotionally have been extraordinary. From weight loss, to more energy and an amazing boost in confidence, to an even tighter bond between them, they are thankful for this experience.

Welling up with tears, Pam said, “I am already sad thinking that it’s going to end. I’ve formed such a bond with my team. They’re all like family. Lauren’s been the best — she’s an angel.”

Mike summed it up: “Lauren is a mature trainer and we’re not all kids, so we have to go at a reasonable pace. She doesn’t push us beyond what we can safely do.”

They plan to continue working with Wilson after the challenge concludes to maintain their progress.

In addition to the Murrays, two other families are also on Wilson’s team: The Murrays’ friends, father and son Curt and Ches McCall, and new friends, husband and wife Bob and Charlotte Walker.

The Murrays have all experienced success. Pam has lost 11 pounds, discovered Zumba and given up her cherished coffee creamer. Mike has lost 28 pounds, shaved two minutes off his mile run and doubled the number of situps he can do. Thomas is down 25 pounds, cooks creative dinners for the family and skips Mountain Dews and sweet tea. Marianna has lost more than 10 pounds, can run a mile without stopping, increased from five to 27 pushups and gained control over her nemesis: Cheesecake.

Marianna may be the most proud of how far she’s come. “I feel so much more confident,” she said. “It’s just amazing that I am able to do all this. I am able to get through my whole day I have so much energy. The only thing I miss is cheesecake. I have a serious problem with cheesecake. But that’s OK, I just feel so much better.” 

She keeps a slice in the refrigerator to remind her who’s in charge and has not had a single bite since she started the challenge. “I think I really just need it there,” she said and then offered a bit of philosophical perspective for anyone struggling with a food that typically derails their efforts: “If you just stay strong and don’t eat it, can you imagine all the other things you can do?”

When the family thinks of how far they’ve come and the changes they are making in their lives, gratitude doesn’t begin to describe what they feel. In addition to Wilson, they credit Janis Newton, director of the HCC, and Judith Herrin, nutritionist for the challenge, for putting them on the right track and helping them stay there.

“We are showing our children something that will forever change their lives,” Mike said. “This program has created a situation where they are learning to eat healthy and how eating relates to exercise. Pam and I are trying our best, but if these two can learn these valuable lessons at 14 and 16 years old, that is a wonderful blessing.”

Married 24 years, Pam and Mike are enjoying this special time with each other and the kids. “I cherish our rides coming here and going home. We love our time together,” Pam said.

“This program has strengthened our family unit,” added Mike. "It  is allowing us as parents to be here longer for our kids and for our kids to move forward with the knowledge not to make the poor eating and exercise decisions we made in the past.”

March 14, 2014

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