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Tommy Freeman and Doug Vogel put the final touches on their sand sculpture, Pawsitive Vibes, at the Isle of Palms Sand Sculpting Contest. Pawsitive Vibes won overall best in show, the top award at the competition.

Tim Whitson’s “Horsing Around” sand sculpture won the second place creative award. Whitson, who traveled from Charlotte, NC for the competition, said he has created at least 200 sand sculptures as a hobby.

Fitness association promotes collaboration among health professionals

Ashley Reese, founder and executive director of the South Carolina Health and Fitness Association, standing in his fitness studio, Defining Moment Fitness, in Mount Pleasant.

A desire for collaboration within the fitness industry led a local fitness studio owner to initiate a statewide association.

South Carolina Health and Fitness Association (SCHFA) brings together fitness studio owners, personal trainers and medical professionals to share resources and advocate for change in the fitness industry.

“It’s very lonely to be a business owner in the fitness industry because while we have so much in common with our fellow business owners, we don’t connect, we don’t share resources, we don’t help each other,” said Ashley Reese, founder and executive director of SCHFA and owner of Defining Moment Fitness in Mount Pleasant.

Throughout Reese’s 13-year career in the fitness industry, one central goal has been to help people. His personal fitness journey began almost 20 years ago when he lost 115 pounds the “wrong way” by running marathons and dieting. As a personal trainer and fitness studio owner, creating a welcoming atmosphere where clients can find optimal training still remains a top priority.

The association is another step in providing a trustworthy network that clients can rely on.

Membership with SCHFA is available for health and fitness professionals. Currently, individual membership costs $25 per month and a group facility membership is $250 per month.

Ethan Schneider/PROVIDED 

South Carolina Health and Fitness Association (SCHFA) brings together fitness studio owners, personal trainers and medical professionals to share resources and advocate for the fitness industry.

Education is a key component of SCHFA. Members have access to weekly virtual sessions where a local expert in the field talks about a specific health topic. In addition, there are quarterly opportunities to receive continuing education credits through a nationally accredited platform.

SCHFA’s ultimate goal is to benefit the clients that the members serve.

In South Carolina, trainers do not have to be certified, so a client could receive fitness advice from someone who is not a trained professional in the field. In an effort to raise the standards, SCHFA requires members who are trainers to either have a degree in exercise science or a related field, or have a nationally recognized certification. The goal is for clients to identify the SCHFA logo at a fitness studio or on a website and know the staff is educated and qualified.

Reese explained that a lack of connections in the community limits what a fitness studio can do for its clients. For example, if a client has a medical concern and wants to visit a doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist, having a trustworthy referral from a trainer makes clients feel more confident in the care they’re receiving.

“I imagine an industry that does that in an entirety. Where you can come in and you’re connected to all these dots and you have a whole wellness because that one person has all these other resources and connections around,” Reese said.

Another facet of the association is to advocate for health and fitness at the state and local level. Reese hopes the association will serve as a unified voice for the health and fitness industry in South Carolina. Reese used the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. While maintaining health and fitness should have been a priority during the pandemic, he said gyms were the first to close and slow to open back up. He explained that more representation at the state level could have opened discussions about the safest ways to promote fitness during the pandemic.

Ethan Schneider/PROVIDED 

Ashley Reese speaks to the crowd at O2 Fitness in West Ashley during the kick-off event to officially launch the South Carolina Health and Fitness Association.

Membership with SCHFA also provides health and liability insurance options, which is uncommon in the industry because many personal trainers are self-employed even when they work in a studio. Reese said the insurance opportunity is a huge selling point for membership.

The association officially launched at the end of April with a group fitness kickoff event at O2 Fitness in West Ashley. Reese said so far he has received excitement from new members about the future of the association. He’s looking forward to growing membership and continuing to build the community through meetings and meetups.

“They love that it brings us on a local level together,” Reese said. “I think everybody is looking for that.”

Reese plans to expand the association across the state once it becomes more established in Charleston.

While membership is for health and fitness professionals, the association ultimately benefits the fitness industry as a whole because the professionals gain more knowledge and clients feel more confident about the fitness decisions they’re making.

“I’m really excited to see a better industry and consumers be more happy with what their result is and what the fitness industry is offering,” Reese said.

More information about the association and membership can be found at www.schealthandfitness.com .

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society campaign raises over $1 million

$1,046,356. That’s the record-breaking fundraising total that the Lowcountry Leukemia and Lymphoma Society reached during its 10-week Man and Woman of the Year Campaign.

“I’ve just been in awe of how supportive the community was for this event. Our candidates just rocked it out and raised an incredible amount of money, especially during such a crazy time in this world that we’re living in,” said Ally Barnett, the campaign development manager for Man and Woman of the Year.

Thirteen candidates in the Lowcountry led teams of well-connected, motivated individuals to reach fundraising goals for blood cancer research. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s mission is to cure blood cancer and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Each year, the Man and Woman of the Year campaign spreads awareness and raises money to support the cause.


Tony Grohman


Natalie Bruce

The 2021 Man and Woman of the Year are Tony Grohman, the senior director of construction at Greystar, who raised $124,485 and Natalie Bruce, the logistics manager for Vikor Scientific who raised $377,550.

“It was just incredible to see Tony and Natalie really utilize their connections in the corporate world and also push that mission out in the community,” said Barnett.

The runner-ups are Alex Miller, a physician’s assistant at Roper St. Francis and Marsha Patel, owner of Map and Co Designs.

The citizenship award winners include: Roddy McIlwain with Jazz Pharmaceuticals who won the mission integration award; Jenne Sevilla of Money Moods who received the volunteerism award; and Patel who won the community involvement award.

The Grand Finale event on May 1 was virtual this year in an effort to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 especially since many participants and honorees have a history of cancer. The Grand Finale is the final fundraising push for the candidates, and this year they surpassed the $1 million mark in the last hours of the campaign.

The campaign is open for donations through the end of June. One year, the campaign reached $1 million after the 10-week period, but this is the first year the campaign reached that milestone during the main fundraising push.

Each year, the Lowcountry Leukemia and Lymphoma Society honors a Boy and Girl of the Year who are currently battling blood cancer. Don Smith, a five-year-old, and Maeve Frampton, a seven-year-old, were both diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Smith has been fighting cancer for over a year and a half and he has less than a year left of chemotherapy.

Frampton was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks before her fifth birthday and has had a challenging last two years, but she reached a milestone on April 5 when she finished chemotherapy.

On April 17, campaign candidates and team members gathered in North Charleston for a drive-thru parade to motivate and encourage Smith and Frampton.

“We had posters and balloons and all kinds of fun stuff just to celebrate them and cheer them on during their cancer journey,” said Barnett.

For more information about the Man and Woman of the Year campaign, visit https://www.mwoy.org/mwoy-low-country-0 .

Island adventure book encourages children to explore nature

For an 11-year-old boy, a summer spent at grandma’s house on Dewees Island with no electronics and nothing to do turned into an island adventure saving loggerhead sea turtles with new friends.

“The Islanders” invites middle grade readers to dive into a world of nature and discover there’s plenty to explore even in their own backyard.

Mary Alice Monroe, a New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 books, used her expertise of the Lowcountry habitat to co-write the book with debut author and longtime friend Angela May.

The book represents several firsts for Monroe as she has never written a middle grade novel or coauthored a book before. Writing for a young audience happened to be a desire for both Monroe and May, who has worked alongside Monroe for over 10 years as her public relations manager.


Angela May and Mary Alice Monroe

“That’s the serendipity. Even though we work together, we didn’t know that it was a secret dream of ours to write for this audience,” Monroe said. “When we came together, it flowed very well.”

“The Islanders” will be released on June 15, but Mount Pleasant locals can get early access to the book at a drive-thru book-signing event at the Wando Mount Pleasant Library on June 12. Attendees can preregister for a time slot at the Charleston County Public Library’s website.


“The Islanders”

The drive-thru event is one of several local opportunities to meet Monroe and May. The authors will be at Barnes and Noble in Mount Pleasant on June 18, Wonder Works Toys on June 19 and Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms on June 27.

Taking time to experience nature is a key takeaway of the book. Monroe encourages readers to unplug and explore the surrounding environment with a curious mind. The book provides a blueprint for documenting the natural world and researching species’ names.

May, who grew up in the Lowcountry, considers it important for her own children to be able to identify plant and animal species because she didn’t make a conscious effort to do so until adulthood.

“The Islanders” teaches young readers factual information about the Lowcountry and the environment without losing the mystery of a fictitious story.

“There’s something magical that happens when you can learn about nonfiction things through the magic of fiction,” said May.

Even in a book geared towards ages 8 to 12, the authors don’t shy away from discussing serious topics. One character navigates his grandmother’s depression and another takes on the role as “man of the house” while another character's father is in prison.

Monroe found it important to discuss topics that may be relatable to middle grade readers, while sensitively using language to make it age appropriate.

In addition, the authors wanted the book to be relatable to all children across gender, racial and economic barriers. “We really wanted to have diversity so that all kids would feel included,” said Monroe.

One priority for both Monroe and May is to make sure children have access to the book.

Buxton Books is hosting “The Islanders” book drive for several Title One Charleston County schools, including Haut Gap Middle School in Johns Island, Hursey Montessori School in North Charleston and Simmons Pinckney Middle School in Charleston.

Through June 20, an individual book or a complete classroom set can be donated through Buxton Books. The books will be delivered to classrooms in time for school to start in the fall.

May emphasized that the book is for all readers, even those who are older than 12-years-old. “It’s just wonderful to work on a book that truly is for everybody and I’m excited to see what all the kids say.”

Monroe hopes young readers will remain curious about the world around them and in turn become “islanders.”

For more information about the book drive benefitting CCSD schools, reach out to Buxton Books at (843) 723-1670 or hello@buxtonbooks.com. Visit Mary Alice Monroe’s website at www.maryalicemonroe.com or Facebook page to stay updated on local book signing events.