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The Champ Speaks

Written by Mike Thee
March 16, 2011

The Anne Carragher Fitness and Wellness Challenge, SU's yearly competition to encourage healthy and balanced living, has come to an end. Sponsored by Recreational Sports and Wellness and Health Promotion, this year's six-week challenge drew 368 individuals and 90 teams. When the music stopped, the group calling themselves Wonder Women came out on top, and one of the participants on this hypercompetitive team, Melisa Ziegler, earned the most points of any individual in the Challenge. The Commons recently caught up with Ziegler, office manager in Career Services, to ask her how she did it and a series of other questions she very gamely and artfully handled.

The Commons:  Wonder Women collected the most points of any team in any category, and you personally had the most points of anyone in the competition. So, I'll ask the question on everyone's mind: What was your secret?

Melisa Ziegler:  Well, a few things combined this year in just the right way to allow me and my team the opportunity to win. It started with recruitment. I did sort of a draft pick and sent some feeler e-mails out before the Challenge started. I wanted a super-competitive team. Lucky for me, they all were on board. The next factor was my flexible schedule. I am able to make up hours by coming in early or staying late which allowed me to attend events during the work day and work out over the lunch hours. For the night events, I only had one night class Winter Quarter on Wednesdays and most of the night events were on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Additionally, I live just one block away so it's easy for me to stay late for events and still be able to go home for dinner. I also have a supportive husband who was willing to let me be a little intense about all of this for six weeks. He deserves some credit. So, I guess, overall, my secret was the right team and time. 

The Commons:  Can you take us back and tell us what was running through your mind the moment you realized your team had locked up the top spot?

MZ:  My first thought: "Let's crush them!" Now, I know that's not exactly the spirit of the game, but hey, I'm competitive. I also didn't want my team to give up once we'd clinched it. We committed to doing the Challenge together, full throttle, and we were going to finish that way. We also all met our PIGs (Personal Improvement Goals), which was very exciting.

The Commons:  Your teammates gave you quite a run for your money in terms of the individual scores. Trisha Steidl finished just seven points behind you, and Bonnie Norris and Erin Engelhardt weren't far behind. In fact, I see that all four of you finished in the top 6 for the individual category. As everything came down to the wire in those final weeks and days, how tense was it among your teammates?

 Challenge Wins Ignatian Medal!   

The Anne Carragher Fitness and Wellness Challenge is a winner in its own right, having been awarded the Ignatian Medal for Outstanding Campus Program at the recent Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators conference. This is the only Ignatian Medal awarded to an institution rather than an individual person. SU last received the award in 1998 for its Collegia program. 

MZ:  Trisha wanted to beat me. She and I are very similar when it comes to competition. It really came down to my flexible schedule versus her often hectic schedule. Also, she's already won twice! She didn't need her name on that plaque again. Bonnie and Erin also did a great job. They were committed to attending events and sticking to the fitness and wellness criteria each week. We were all very supportive of one another. There was never an issue over who was doing better than anyone else. 

The Commons:  So I'm guessing that  you enjoy depriving yourself of things?

MZ:  Ha-ha. Well, I enjoy competing and pushing myself to meet challenges. I thrive on it. I'm always trying to push myself to the next level physically and mentally and sometimes that means being disciplined.

The Commons:  What was the most decadent thing you ate during the Challenge?

MZ:  Probably a piece of cheesecake or a triple chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Royale. It's all about balance, as Deb (Hinchey, co-coordinator of the Challenge) says. When you're working out a lot and in training, you expend a lot of calories. You need to treat yourself if you're going to keep it up and make sure you're getting what you need to succeed.

The Commons:  Everyone who participates in the Challenge is asked to identify a Personal Improvement Goal (PIG), and if they meet that goal, they receive 10 points. What was your PIG?

MZ:  Mine was pretty personal this year, so I'd rather not say. But, I will share that it was more on the emotional part of the Wellness Wheel. The Challenge is an excellent way to focus on something you know you want to improve because it's in a supportive environment. It allowed me a formal opportunity to work on something important to me that I wouldn't have prioritized without the Challenge.

The Commons:  What advice would you impart to that young girl or boy now growing up and dreaming of one day dominating SU's Fitness and Wellness Challenge?

MZ:  Boys and girls: Go big, or go home. If you want to win, then win it. If you want to have fun, then have fun. The Challenge is about you. It is your time to push yourself as much or as little as you want to be pushed. And if that includes wanting to dominate, then don't look back. Get organized and get going. You can do it!

The Commons:  Do Wonder Women plan to return and defend their title next year?

MZ:  Unfortunately, the team will not be staging a repeat. I'm sure that is exciting for most of you or maybe disappointing because you were ready to step it up next year and take it to us. This year the stars aligned for us to compete at such a high level. You might say we stepped up to compete at the Division I-level. Next year, I will no longer be at SU as I have been accepted to start my Ph.D. in the fall. There are also rumors that this may have been Trisha's last year of seriously competing, but I can't verify that. However, Bonnie and Erin may get a new Wonder Women group going.

The Commons:  I can't help thinking that things might have turned out differently for Charlie Sheen had he participated in the Challenge…

MZ:  "Como se dice winning?" Yeah, the only drug he needs to be on is the Challenge! I think taking a good look at the Wellness Wheel and coming up with a PIG would be a good first step. That and maybe keeping a low profile for a while.

The Commons:  Anything else you'd like to say about the experience?

MZ:  I need to thank my Aunt Denise for the motivation and desire to win this year.  Last year when I was doing

  

the Challenge, she was competing in the Fred Hutch Healthy Challenge which is pretty similar to ours.  She dominated (perfect score) and inspired me to step it up this year.  That's her in the picture with Rosie the Riveter. If you can't tell, I come from a family of competitors. It's in my blood and I love it.

Also, thank you to Rec Sports and the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion for organizing such an amazing Challenge again this year. And a special shout-out to (Challenge coordinators) Deb and Mileva (Huljev). These ladies are fabulous and don't get enough credit for all the good work they do!

To learn more, visit Fitness and Wellness Challenge.