Spotlight: Wellness coordinator walks the walk
For Cathy Fitzgerald, the saying "practice what you preach" is a way of life. A dietitian and wellness coordinator for the U-M Health System, Fitzgerald has competed in a triathlon and three 300-mile bike rides while making healthy living a personal priority.
Since 1995 Fitzgerald has worked with Mfit, the health promotion division of UMHS; and since 2005 with Project Healthy Schools (PHS), a U-M program aiming to prevent obesity in children. She visits classrooms in three middle schools and teaches students healthy eating and exercise habits by promoting incentive programs. She also holds assemblies and works with staff and students to make the school, including the cafeteria healthier.
"Our goal is to change the school environment and make it a healthier place," Fitzgerald says.
Fitzgerald holds herself to the same standards she sets for students. She tries to eat healthy and stay active because she wants to be a positive role model. "If you're not modeling good behavior, how can you expect others to pick it up?" she says.
Fitzgerald's job involves many aspects of wellness promotion, and she always is moving. In addition to working with local schools, she works on the PHS Web page and newsletter, and other PHS endeavors. She also is a nutrition coach with MFit and works to guide clients toward healthy food choices as they develop healthier habits.
"I don't have a typical day of work. That's why I like my job. I like the variety and that every day is different," Fitzgerald says. "I don't sit at a desk. I get up and move around."
Fitzgerald also exercises frequently and participates in various athletic competitions. Last June she competed in her first triathlon and placed second in her age group. Fitzgerald was older than most of her competitors, and says she is proud to have finished so well.
She also participates in the Make-A-Wish bike ride, a three-day, 300-mile trek from Traverse City to Chelsea. This year will be her fourth time in the event. The Make-A-Wish ride also has become a family event. This past summer her daughter Sara, son-in-law and brother-in-law rode along with Fitzgerald and her husband Rick.
Fitzgerald was involved in the welfare of children long before she became a dietitian. Raised in Saginaw, she attended U-M for two years before transferring to Central Michigan University (CMU) to get a degree in education. "Working with kids was appealing," says Fitzgerald, who earned a master's degree in education leadership in 1979 from Eastern Michigan University.
After moving to the area in 1989, Fitzgerald worked part time for the Michigan Child and Adult Food Care Program. Fitzgerald was checking day care homes to make sure they followed nutritional requirements so that children were properly fed. The families also received nutrition education. This job sparked her interest in dietetics and wellness, so she went back to school to earn a bachelor's degree in dietetics from EMU.
Although her children are grown, Fitzgerald still enjoys working with youngsters. Whether she is making healthy eating choices or exercising, she says she constantly strives to improve herself.
"I always have to have a new challenge," she says. "Everyone thinks it's easier for dietitians to be healthy, but that's not true. We have to work at it, too."
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