Get Ready to Take the 2015 Fit Family Challenge

Ffc Gomez

The Fit Family Challenge is a healthy lifestyle program that inspires families to get active, make healthy nutritional choices and create long-term habits that will serve each family member well.

Families can register online at to track their activities for a chance to win prizes, including a family vacation to Florida. There is no cost to register and take part in the Fit Family Challenge, which runs April 21 to June 15, 2015.

Carolina Parent will follow the progress of two families for eight weeks and report on their challenges and progress in our May and June issues. The Gomez family of Holly Springs and the Ojala family of North Raleigh will receive customized plans and motivational guidance from three experts as they embark on this life-changing journey.

Meet the Families

Let’s learn about our spotlight families and what kinds of challenges they anticipate. In our next two issues, our panel of experts will share with readers the advice they have given the Gomez and Ojala families, and we will follow them to see how they are changing their lives for the better.

The Gomez Family

Katherine Gomez and her husband David live in Holly Springs. Katherine is a stay-at-home mom and David is a process engineer for a startup Research Triangle Park company. They are well into their parenting years. Six-year-old Anthony is in kindergarten at Middle Creek Elementary School in Apex and Andrew is almost 2 years old. And yet, Katherine sometimes feels stuck in neutral.

“I feel like we haven’t quite gotten out of survival mode,” Katherine says. “We’re not taking charge of meal planning. We talk a lot about joining a gym. We say, ‘When things settle down we will do that.’ But our oldest son is 6 now and we still haven’t done it.”

Before their children were born, Katherine and David embraced physical activity with a rare passion. Both ran marathons and participated in triathlons. Saturday mornings were reserved for long runs and bike rides.

Parenthood changed all that.

“Now that we have kids, we choose sleep over exercise,” says Katherine, who taught eighth-grade English until Anthony was born. “Other than chasing the boys and our two dogs, we’re not really intentional with exercise.”

Both Anthony and Andrew are active and like to play outside. David helps coach Anthony’s baseball team. While that’s a good start for both parents, Katherine anticipates a difficult road.

“We also realize how quickly you can backtrack,” she says. “If you go two or three weeks of being sedentary, then you’re pretty much starting over. It will take time, but small steps will have big rewards.”

It will also take some commitment for the Gomez family to change their eating habits.

“We’re starting pretty much at ground zero,” Katherine says. “A lot of our meals are fast food or take out. We may do a Crock-Pot meal once a week.”

The challenge ahead is a big one, but Katherine is ready to embrace it.

“We’ve been looking for a reset button on our whole lifestyle,” she says. “This would give us an excellent support system and the challenge we have been talking about.”

The Gomez family has set three primary goals:

1. Eating home-cooked meals. Ideally Katherine and David would like to prepare a healthy dinner at home three or four times a week.

“It’s important for the boys’ health and ours,” Katherine says. “Saving money would be a positive side effect.”

2. Achieving a healthy weight gain for the boys. While Mom and Dad would like to lose a few pounds, Anthony and Andrew are a bit underweight.

“While my husband and I both fall into the overweight category, both of our boys are in the very low percentile of weight gain,” she says. “It’s going to be a challenge for the nutritionist. They need a lot of the healthy fats.”

3. Improving Mom and Dad’s fitness. Katherine looks to David’s parents, who are in their 70s, for inspiration. They owe their good health to eating well and walking several miles a day.

“We see that and we know it’s going to take a lot more than hope to be in that good of physical condition down the road,” Katherine says. “I would like to see us doing something three to five days a week, just something to get moving together. I need to turn things around.”

Getting everyone on the same nutritional page won’t be easy. Katherine isn’t so sure Anthony is making good choices when he buys his lunch at school. Andrew isn’t much of an eater at all, even if he’s eating fast food. David takes a pass on breakfast.

“When I feed my family healthy meals, I know I feel a lot better and more positive,” Katherine says. “Food is fuel for your body. Mentally, you need to eat well to be at your best. And if you do exercise, you stop craving the fast food and junk.”

Photo above of the Gomez family (Katherine, David and their sons Anthony and Andrew) courtesy of Melissa Hayes Photography

The Ojala Familyffc-ojala.jpg

Ben and Stacy Ojala had the right idea on a recent family outing to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. When they finished exploring, rather than getting back into the car, they walked to a barbecue restaurant a half-mile away.

“It was great that we walked, but then we ate barbecue and fried chicken,” Stacy says. “So we didn’t eat anything healthy.”

The Ojalas’ three kids keep them on their toes. Eight-year-old Julia and 6-year-old Andy attend Durant Road Elementary School in North Raleigh. They both take part in the neighborhood swim club and enjoy rollerblading. Five-year-old Ian isn’t quite as motivated to be active but, as a preschooler, he enjoys pretend play and would like to try playing soccer.

“It’s a bit of a challenge sometimes because they want screen time,” Stacy says. “We want to change our lifestyle. It’s not terrible, but we want to be more active.”

In the past, they exercised together, but Ben didn’t enjoy it as much as Stacy, who used to run 5Ks. In recent years, it has been harder to find the time.

“I’m tired by the end of the day,” she says. “I feel guilty if I go to the gym all the time and leave him (with the kids). On weekends I feel like I could go work out, but that’s my time with the family.”

Like so many families, the Ojalas of North Raleigh try to make healthy choices, but doing it consistently often seems impossible. Ben works from home for Western Governors University, an online educational institution, and Stacy works full time as the communications manager for The Body Shop in Wake Forest.

“If you have a day where you work a half-hour longer than you anticipated, you just don’t want to eat at 8 p.m. and then clean up,” Stacy says.

She admits they eat out a lot, often choosing pizza or Mexican food — meals that please the family.

The Ojalas would like to achieve three primary goals:

1. Weight loss for Ben and Stacy. Juggling jobs and parenting responsibilities often means parents lose sight of staying fit. Stacy has a gym membership and enjoys the workouts. Ben might be more inclined to lift weights or do yoga.

“I will go through a stretch where I’m really good and I go back to the gym,” Stacy says. “Once you lose a few pounds, you get motivated. But as I get older, I find that it gets harder to sustain it and get it back.”

2. Getting the kids excited about being active. Stacy would like the children to show more initiative about choosing their own activities.

“It’s not so much that we’re dragging them somewhere and they end up liking it,” she explains. “I want to turn it around so they’re coming up with ideas, and they’re educated about why it’s important.”

3. Preparing nutritious meals. The Ojalas prepare healthy meals — just not enough of them. And they would like to solve some of the dilemmas that go along with mealtime, like finding ways to cook vegetables that will appeal to Julia, Andy and Ian.

“And I would like to cook healthy quickly,” Stacy points out. “When we do plan something healthy, we’re not sitting down to dinner until 7:30 p.m. You can’t be active and eat healthy. It’s kind of one or the other, usually.”

On the positive side, the Ojalas are not homebodies, but they will need to find activities they can participate in together.

“We try to be active, but I think we struggle — myself in particular,” Stacy admits. “It has gotten really hard for both me and my husband to find time to get to the gym. And Ian doesn’t like hiking and doing active things. If we could do something as a family where we all could be active, it would be family time that would be productive.”

Stay tuned next month for an update on the customized plans our panel of experts have created for both families to help them achieve their fitness and nutritional goals. In the meantime, be sure to register your family for Carolina Parent’s Fit Family Challenge at

The photo above left of the Ojala family (Ben, Stacy, Ian, Julia and Andy) courtesy of Melissa Hayes Photography

Meet the Experts

Evie Houtz from Be Active Kids will serve as the families’ fitness instructor. She will help our spotlight parents discover the best ways to help everyone enjoy an active and fun-filled lifestyle.

Gaye Esser, owner of Redefine Balance, will serve as the balance expert for our spotlight families. She will apply the principles of her business to help our spotlight parents find time to meet their individual needs, as well as those of their children.

Tracy Owens, owner of Triangle Nutrition Therapy, is a board-certified sports and clinical dietician who will create customized nutrition solutions for our spotlight families that are simple and easy to follow.

Get Out There!

Stop by our Fit Family Challenge booth at these fun family-oriented events:

April 11 – Girls on the Run, Durham;

April 12 – Touch a Truck, University Mall, Chapel Hill;

May 2 – Big Muddy Challenge, Youngsville;

May 2 – Meet in the Street, Wake Forest;

Kurt Dusterberg is a freelance writer who lives in Apex. He is the Carolina Hurricanes correspondent for and author of the book, “Journeymen: 24 Bittersweet Tales of Short Major League Sports Careers.”




Categories: At Home, Family Health, Fit Family Challenge, Health, Home, Lifestyle, Nutrition, Work-Life, Work-Life Balance