Born and raised in McAllen, Texas, Lee grew up fishing and water skiing along the Gulf Coast. As a teenager, he worked as a lifeguard, swimming extra miles just for fun. A science teacher, scuba diver, book worm, and amateur chef, Lee is something of a Renaissance man. At one point, he managed a disco. He hosts community fundraisers, coaches his middle school’s robotics team, and loves spending time with his family. But as he’s gotten older, he’s found it harder to keep up with all of the activities he enjoys.
Diagnosed with scoliosis in early childhood, Lee’s battled back pain all his life. Coupled with gradual weight gain and an injury a few years back, the pain was zapping his motivation to keep active. Lee had a pacemaker put in ten years ago – a fact that’s never far from his mind. He’s lost several close friends due to heart problems, some much younger than he is. So when his doctor felt the need to up his blood pressure medication last winter, Lee knew it was time to make a change.
With a new grandbaby in the picture, Lee wanted to make sure he’d be around to watch her grow up. He imagined being the kind of granddad who would get down on the floor and play with her.
Lee learned about our free health coaching hotline, Living Healthier, through his school’s participation in the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge, a statewide competition built around tracking healthy activities. Lee was already making the effort to eat better and felt ready to take on a little more. Even so, he had his doubts about the process. He’d attempted a health coaching program once before and likened the coach to a drill sergeant. Rather than a distant figure barking orders, what he needed was some backup through the ups and downs of sticking with it.
Through Living Healthier, Lee was connected to a health coach named Jackie, whose warmth and positivity quickly put him at ease. Over the course of their conversation, they talked about Lee’s health history, the types of activities he enjoyed, and what motivated him to make the call. They discussed how he was coping with his back pain and the changes he wanted to make in his life. Together, they honed in on Lee’s most important goals: Bringing his pain under control and getting healthy for his family.
Instead of telling Lee what to do, Jackie tapped into his motivation to do it.
Before the two hung up, they agreed on a couple of steps Lee could take before their next check-in. There was a gym not too far from Lee’s home, and Lee decided he would go there to inquire about becoming a member. The next time he and Jackie talked, Lee had already signed up for the membership and gone back for his first workout. He set a goal of doing cardio and strength training three times a week. Within a few months’ time, Lee had upped his weekly workouts to four. He was also doing more of the yard work around his property.
Every week, Jackie checks in with Lee by phone to see how he’s progressing. Their conversations have grown more comfortable over time, and they’ve achieved a familiar flow. Like any good coach, Jackie listens, encourages, and challenges Lee to aim higher. When he reaches a milestone, they celebrate it. When he encounters a setback, they brainstorm to find the best solution. During their first phone conversation, Lee told Jackie about wanting to be healthy for his new grandbaby. On the days when progress seems hard to come by, she reminds Lee of why it’s important to keep going.
The weekly phone calls help Lee feel more accountable. “Once I tell Jackie I’ll do something,” he says, “I know I’ll feel guilty if I don’t follow through.”
Since starting health coaching in March, Lee has lost 20 pounds and several inches off his waist. But to him, the real benefit is in the way he feels. “The best way I know how to put it,” he tells us, “is that I went from feeling sluggish and in pain, to full of energy.” Before health coaching, pain medication was a daily ritual. But lately, he hasn’t needed pills at all. Gradually, the lifestyle changes have become a part of Lee’s routine. He imagines a not-so-distant future when he won’t even have to think about getting up to exercise or eating right. It’ll just be a part of who he is.
On a recent trip to McAllen, we had the chance to visit Lee in person at the school where he teaches. We arrived just as classes were letting out and found Lee in the hallway swapping high fives with his students as they left for the day. Lee showed us around his classroom, which has all the trappings of a middle school science lab. The shelves laden with microscopes and petri dishes. A periodic table hanging neatly on the wall.
Having written his Master’s thesis on how to involve more young women in the sciences, Lee can talk instructional design and philosophy all day. He explains how, looking for a way to get his students more engaged in the science curriculum, he revamped the school’s program to allow for smaller groups and a more hands on approach to learning.
“I’m constantly looking for new ways to hook them,” he tells us, “to get them interested and to change things up.”
Around school, Lee’s known for wearing Hawaiian-style shirts with colorful, science-themed patterns on them. His robotics students have gone on to some of the nation’s top universities, including MIT. As passionate as Lee is about education, he’ll be the first to tell you that teaching middle schoolers is a tough job. He credits health coaching with giving him the energy to get through the day.
With plans to retire in two years, Lee is hopeful about the future. He sees a lot of sailing and travel on the horizon. But what he looks forward to most is taking his grandkids on vacation, “showing them things that I’ve seen, and teaching them things I know how to do.”
Change begins with one small step.
Every day, we join arms with Texans working to change their lifestyle for the better. Some are busy working moms struggling to make time for their health. Others are coping with injuries, loss of income, or other circumstances that prevent them from living the life they want to lead. Many have been diagnosed with a health condition like high blood pressure or pre-diabetes. Nearly all have tried many times before to change.
The Living Healthier health coaching hotline is free to any Texan looking to make a healthy change. Our health coaches are experienced at helping people manage a wide range of conditions, from hypertension, to chronic kidney disease (CKD), to type 2 diabetes. Calls are taken in English and in Spanish. There’s never any charge, and we work with you for as long as needed.
To make an appointment, get to know our coaches, or simply learn more, visit livinghealthier.itstimetexas.org. Or call us directly at 1 (844) 262-6224.