15 for 2015

Susan Johnson

Anyone on Twitter knows that the social media site uses the term "influencers" for people who have "the ability to inspire a community of people to act," though usually as a powerful sales tool.

The greater Charleston community, meanwhile, has dozens of influencers whose work, whether professional, volunteer or both, and personal actions cause ripple effects on making the population healthier and fitter.

The influencer's reach goes beyond a tight circle of friends, acquaintances or paying customers and builds momentum to improve the health of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Among the 15 selected to talk about their plans for 2015 are people who have been in the trenches for decades and some for just a few years.

Here are 15 local health and fitness influencers for 2015, listed in alphabetical order.

Long a voice for healthy eating and exercise in the local black community, 70-year-old Thad Bell is showing no signs of slowing down, particularly in promoting "health literacy" in his community via radio and TV.

A study funded by the Department of Defense showed that his efforts to spread the word via the "Closing the Gap" campaign, which includes regular radio spots on Magic 107.3, is working.

For 2015: The success of those awareness spots have led to another grant and a new partnership, with WCSC-TV Channel 5, starting this week and continuing for nine months. The efforts, the former masters sprinter says, will be broadened from focusing on the chronic diseases of old age to proactive health messages for youth and young adults.

The founder of the longest running yoga studio in Charleston, Holy Cow Yoga Center, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2014, continues to be one of the top ambassadors of yoga in Charleston.

Bonner says the yoga center has trained more than 400 yoga teachers in the past 12 years and continues to draw 600 students a week in 50 classes. Additionally, the center hosts health and wellness workshops and teacher programs at the 200- and 300-hour levels.

For 2015: Holy Cow will add a 1,000-hour advanced studies program and certifications in prenatal, yin and kids yoga. Bonner will be returning to the Satchidananda Ashram in Virginia to lead a retreat, "Aligning the Body, Aligning to the Spirit."

In 2014, the owner of Coastal Expeditions, in partnership with the Coastal Conservation League and Charleston County School District Athletic Director Dave Spurlock, continued his efforts with the South Carolina Outdoor Education Program, designed to get school children to reconnect with nature.

Since the program started in 2012, it has taken more than 12,000 students out on paddling trips. More than 4,700 hit the water in 2014.

For 2015: "Coastal has just unrolled new membership opportunities, which makes getting on the water easy and at heavily discounted rates, as well as having a resource for nature, geographical and paddling-related questions, among many other perks," says Crolley

"I don't think we've ever had a better group of naturalist guides and captains fulfilling our mission of environmental education, and making a real difference. I'm excited to see what 2015 brings!"

Charleston and the state of South Carolina is fortunate to have one of the nation's most committed anti-smoking advocates and experts working out of the Medical University of South Carolina's Hollings Cancer Center for the past three years.

Following a year when Cummings and other advocates held a conference, "Making Tobacco History," in Charleston, the 61-year-old already has composed a long list of resolutions for the new year.

For 2015: Cummings plans to ask elected officials to recoup the enormous medical costs associated with smoking by raising the tax on cigarettes by at least $1 next year and dedicating these resources to expand health care coverage to all citizens, as well as raise the legal age for the purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

In South Carolina, he wants to make smoking cessation a required part of medical care delivery in South Carolina health care facilities, require a tax stamp on cigarette packs (as 48 other states do) to reduce illegal cigarette trade, lobby health insurance companies to stop doing business with drug stores that sell tobacco products and ask the governor to make sure that Master Settlement money that comes to South Carolina goes to pay for tobacco prevention and cessation programs as intended.

Since 2009, Drew Harrison has been involved in the Green Heart Project, first as a volunteer, now as executive director.

He has played a key role in the nonprofit that builds urban gardens and "farm to school" programs in two Title 1 schools, Mitchell Elementary in Charleston and Zucker Middle in North Charleston.

"When people think 'farm to school,' more than likely a school garden comes to mind. But the term really intends to connect students to local food producers with the objectives of serving local, healthy food in cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities while supporting local and regional farmers," says Harrison.

For 2015: "With two successful (school garden) programs already implemented ... we're looking to expand those models, and want do it in two ways," says Harrison.

"First, we are going to be expanding to additional schools who have expressed interest in piloting a farm-to-school program with our support. We have spoken to a few schools already and hope to have two additional 'seedling' schools started by February of 2015.

"We are also excited to announce our partnership with Seamon Whiteside & Associates for 2015. They have joined our team of community partners and will serve as our garden-design partner. With their expertise, we will build three additional school gardens that will serve each school community as an educational tool while enhancing the outdoor beauty of the school campus."

The 49-year-old health promotions director at the Medical University of South Carolina continues her charge on multiple fronts after four years at the post. Her achievements have included creating tobacco-free environments, an on-site urban farm, collaborations with dozens of local and state organizations and regular appearances on TV and radio spreading the message of health.

Accomplishments in 2014 included the first-ever, state-wide "Fit Family Challenge" which reached 10,000 and logged 2.6 million minutes of exercise from May 15 to July 10; the second year of the "Adventure Out" outdoor exercise collaboration (this year with the city of Charleston Recreation Department); and the Lowcountry Food Day Crawl on Oct. 24 involving an array of like-minded health businesses and agencies.

For 2015: "My focus for 2015 is to work with diverse collaborators to create an environment of well-being for our community. Healthy places change lives. We need to focus on creating healthy schools, churches, businesses, organizations, communities."

To that end, she continues the free Charleston Healthy Business Challenge, including a new "Toolkit for Creating a Healthier Workplace," set to be announced on Jan. 14, along with year-round Adventure Out programming (funded by Coca-Cola) and continued work "focusing on a built environment that promotes healthy, active living and improved quality of life for all."

Leaving her family medicine practice in 2002, Dr. Ann Kulze has devoted herself to preaching the gospel of health and disease prevention through talks, webinars and videos as well as five "Eat Right for Life" books, which have sold a half million copies.

For years, her talks on South Carolina public radio as part of the "Your Day" segments put her message out on the airwaves.

For 2015: Her sixth book, "Eat Right for Life: The Family Plan," is set to be published. She also sees workplace wellness programs continuing the momentum from 2014.

"The health care reform act - I don't like to call it Obamacare - has been a huge shot the arm for employee wellness. Employers are now recognizing that this is the last lever they can pull to rein in health care costs," says Kulze, adding that more data is coming out on what workplace programs are effective.

The executive director of Audubon South Carolina calls Kathie Livingston a "one-woman conservation enterprise."

For Livingston, creating Nature Adventure Outfitters 16 years ago was more about advancing the cause of conservation than anything else.

Last year, Nature Adventure Outfitters took people out on 8,000 paddle trips on Shem Creek, the Edisto and Ashley rivers and the ACE Basin. And it became the outfitter for the South Carolina Aquarium.

For 2015: Like many outfitters, physical activity dovetails with outings.

"We'll be doing hikes, paddling monthly trips and four overnight expeditions. We are also going to do yoga fitness classes along with our paddle for classes," says Livingston.

This part-time adjunct professor and mother of two may be the most diversified endurance athlete in the Charleston.

Maize, who some call "the Wonder Mom," has run the Boston Marathon three times (2002, 2007 and 2012), finished the Swim Around Key West in 2012, completed two Ironman events, including Coeur D'Alene (which she finished after breaking her collar bone during a wreck on the bike) in 2009 and Florida in 2011.

In 2014, she won the Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50-miler for women and was first masters in the Homestead 10x5K. And she finished a double Ironman distance triathlon, which included a 4.8-mile swim, 224-mile bike and 52.4-mile run.

But she's also inspired other mothers to set goals and find time to train through not only her feats but by helping with special programs at TrySports in Mount Pleasant.

For 2015: Maize is helping organize a local chapter of Girls On The Run, a life skills program for girls.

"We'll start our first program in two schools in fall 2015. The spring will be spent fundraising, increasing awareness, recruiting coaches and solidifying school locations," says Maize, who will be operations director, in charge of coaches and school sites.

The owners of Fleet Feet Sports in Mount Pleasant have gone above and beyond reaching out to the community for new business owners with both training programs and charitable efforts in the 22 months since the store opened.

In 2014, Fleet Feet provided low cost or free training to more than 360 people, many new or novice runners, and fun-oriented "pub runs" that drew more than 180 last month.

After recognizing the need by some high school girls in less privileged high schools for properly fitting sports bras, they created the "Support the Girls" program. So far, Fleet Feet has fitted and donated 400 sports bras to girls in Charleston County ROTC programs.

The Minkels also work closely with the Meeting Street Academy running club, which has grown from six runners in the fall of 2013 to 76 in the fall of 2014.

For 2015: Fleet Feet added a new 5K training program, No Boundaries II, to help participants who have competed in a 5K continue to build on that base, slowly increasing mileage and pace to be ready to move onto longer distances, as well as a "Strollin Moms" group to help encourage moms at all levels of fitness to come together for a workout and some social time along with their little ones.

More than two decades after opening his first Half-Moon Outfitters, the retailer is going strong with eight locations in South Carolina and Georgia. He promotes outdoor activities, from trail runs to stand-up paddleboard races (all can be found under "Happenings" on Half-Moon's website).

Molten himself participates in some of them, such as the Golden Nugget SUP race last October in Mount Pleasant. He also takes time to serve on the Charleston Greenbelt Commission, which uses half-cent sales tax revenue to save park space for the Lowcountry's burgeoning future.

For 2015: Half-Moon is bringing back an SUP race, Bodhi's Revenge, to Folly Beach on April 19 and will hold the sixth Golden Nugget.

Walsh, an avid swimmer who retired as a public school teacher in 2011 after 28 years, witnessed scores of children who didn't know how to swim and who had a "familial fear of the water."

She and fellow swimmer and physical therapist Mark Rutledge decided to do something about it. They started LAPS, Lowcountry Aquatics Project Swimming, in the fall of 2013.

LAPS provides year-long swimming lessons to kindergartners and first graders at Title 1 schools in Charleston County. This school year, they are teaching 1,700 children. Walsh intends the lessons, designed to teach swimming proficiency, not only to save lives and relieve fear of water, but to provide opportunities for competition, scholarships and lifelong fitness.

For 2015: LAPS will continue to build on the successes of the past two years, but plans to reach out to the "non-swimming parents" of students in April, which is Adult Learn to Swim Month. It also will host a Family Water Safety Day in May, which is National Water Safety Month.

As the executive director of the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, Tom O'Rourke has worked to provide opportunities for all income levels to enjoy a "green exercise," or fitness in the fresh air of the great outdoors by supporting activities as diverse as trail runs, triathlons and fitness classes.

O'Rourke and his staff worked closely with MUSC's Health Promotions Director Susan Johnson on Adventure Out, which he described as a "kick start" of an initiative that helps people see their parks as a health and wellness resource.

"The Partnership between CCPRC - The Parklands Foundation - and MUSC we think proves to us that we all can work together for the bigger goal of a healthier Charleston County," says O'Rourke.

For 2015: "2015 will be a banner year for our programs," says O'Rourke, noting that details will be released later.

"CCPRC will unveil the results and roll out of a year-long very successful pilot that will infuse physical activity as a part of physician health care."

He adds the commission will be working with other local governments to complete the Charleston County Bicycle and Pedestrian plan.

What does a product engineer designer for an international medical equipment manufacturer do in his spare time?

Kendall Shows inspires people to find their inner warrior athlete via running clinics and martial arts classes at the Summerville Family YMCA.

Many identify him as the "driving force" behind the founding of the Summerville Family YMCA Triathlon team in 2009, which in recent years has been the biggest team at the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series.

For 2015: Shows will hit the ground running by leading training programs for the Summerville Family Y's Shamrock Run on March 14 and the Cooper River Bridge Run on March 28. After that, triathlon season kicks off with team members going to Parris Island for the earliest area triathlon of the year and then training for the rest of the season.

The group, which had a contingent do Beach2Battleship in Wilmington, N.C., in November, has been talking about different "big, goal races" for 2015, but hasn't yet decided on one.

Since October 2010, Doretha Walker has been a beacon for health and fitness for many local woman, particularly in the African-American community. She is the driving force behind the local chapter of Black Girls Run!

For the adjunct college instructor, it's all volunteer and from the heart and her message is delivered from the standpoint of "live by example.

In that leadership role, Walker has collaborated with others, including Fleet Feet's Chris and Amy Minkel and their innovative Support the Girls program, in the past four years.

For 2015: Last year, Walker severed ties with Black Girls Run! and has joined a splinter group, started out of Charlotte, called SoleSociety Run Club that focuses on exercise and nutrition.

"This club is for all women, including black women. The majority (of participants) are black," says Walker. "We are black regardless of the organizations we belong to or lead. That alone helps inspire other blacks to follow suit.

"I believe that I have to lead by example and that means showing others that running can be a great equalizer," she says, adding, "We have some great political debates and racial conversations on the pavement."

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.