It’s a new year and it’s time to set new goals and work hard towards. But sometimes things happen along the way that we have no control over. But its all up to us with what we do with it. We can either let it define us or we can overcome it and beat it. And that is exactly what these amazing people did.

2017 Marathon Weekend Logo

With the runDisney WDW Marathon Weekend, sponsored by Cigna, just days away, many have spent months training for these races. For the 5k, 10K, half, and the full. Or perhaps the goofy, or the dopey challenge or the unofficial bashful challenge. This year I decided not to run for the first time which made me sad but due to my brain tumor, and severity of my fibro, and my Scoliosis progression, I wasn’t sure if I was going to handle the marathon.

But I wanted to take a moment and highlight some amazing people who have overcome just incredible challenges and I wanted to share it with you all since you find motivation in inspirational stories.

Mike Green, 57 years old from Houston, Texas, is a U.S. military veteran and retired police officer of 25 years who recently found a new, rewarding way to serve his community and stay healthy at the same time. By participating in the YMCA’s Enhance Fitness program made possible by a Cigna Foundation grant, Mike has improved his health, increased his strength and endurance which opened the door for him to discover and achieve new goals. In recognition of Mike’s milestone, this January, Mike will participate on Team Cigna in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 5K.“After I retired, without a way to serve my community I felt lost. My health was also not at an optimum which added to my challenges.” Mike took three different blood pressure medications to manage high blood pressure and manages post-traumatic stress disorder, a disability from war. That’s when Mike, a longtime member of his local YMCA, decided to make his health a priority and turned to his community at the YMCA and friend, YMCA associate director, Lharrisa Jacobs, for support and ideas how to achieve his health goals.

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“Earlier this year I joined the EnhanceFitness program at my YMCA provided through a Cigna Foundation grant. By keeping myself healthy, increasing my strength and endurance in the EnhanceFitness program, I’m now able to compete in community 5K runs for charity to help raise money for education scholarships and other community causes,” said Mike. He also mentors other participants in the program as a way to give back. “Through EnhanceFitness, I feel better, have more energy and have new and rewarding ways that I am able to continue serving my community.” EnhanceFitness is a proven community-based senior fitness and arthritis management program designed to help improve health of older adults through increased physical activity and strength exercises in a fun, social environment. EnhanceFitness is nationally recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Council on Aging and several other federal agencies. Measurable health improvements like reduced risk of chronic disease and falls are benchmarks tracked and results of the EnhanceFitness program.

Mike is one of 13,569 EnhanceFitness participants. As a result of participating in the EnhanceFitness program at the Greater Houston YMCA, Mike’s blood pressure is now within a normal, healthy range; his doctor reduced his blood pressure medication from three pills to one and Mike is no longer pre-diabetic. Mike’s improved core strength and balance empowers his independence and enables him to walk with stability and confidence across uneven ground and sidewalks without his cane, and he no longer needs to wear a brace on his left ankle. Since joining the program, he reports no falls—a marked improvement. “The Cigna Foundation has been the stronghold for the EnhanceFitness program at the YMCA. Cigna Foundation’s support of the EnhanceFitness program along with the dedication of the YMCA instructors have helped me get to this point,” said Mike. The Greater Houston YMCA is one of two YMCA’s in the U.S. to launch the EnhanceFitness program earlier this year as a result of a Cigna Foundation World of Difference grant. The classes are specially tailored to support health and wellbeing for older adults. This isn’t one-size-fits-all. Members are encouraged to participate at their level, and the instructors are trained to know how to support individuals’ ability levels and meet them where they are. “The Cigna Foundation is dedicated to helping individuals live healthier, more secure lives; and for our seniors that means healthy aging through physical, mental and social well-being,” said David Figliuzzi, executive director of the Cigna Foundation.

“We’re proud to partner with the ‘Y’ to help seniors in Philadelphia and Houston become more active, energized and empowered for independent living through the EnhanceFitness program.” Mike shared, “When Lharissa invited me to participate in the 5K at Disney World on Team Cigna, I was very excited to have this opportunity. I’m looking forward to representing the YMCA and hopefully inspiring others to keep achieving your goals and discover new ones.”

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Coming back from everything Mike has gone through takes a lot of work. He is a true hero and I know he will keep inspiring others and help many discover what their true potential is.

Cathy Murdoch, 57 years old from Murphy, Texas, is a nurse case manager at Cigna, a global health services company, who is looking forward to celebrating a new milestone along her own health journey this January by participating in her first Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend half marathon. As a result of winning Cigna’s annual employee contest, Cathy and her husband’s travel expenses and race entries are provided by Cigna. Like many Americans, heart disease runs in Cathy’s family. Her mother died of a stroke before the age of 64. Cathy has managed a diagnosis of hypertension for several years with medication. Two years ago when her grandson, Tommy, was born with Down Syndrome, is when she decided to make her health a priority and get fit to help Tommy and their family face the struggles that lie ahead. This fall, as her grandson took his first steps, Cathy took her first steps training for her first Walt Disney World half marathon. “I want to be able to show Tommy that anything is possible with determination, perseverance, hard work and a little pixie dust.

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If this 57-year old out of shape grandmother can stick with a goal to complete a half marathon, I believe anyone is capable of making changes in their life. It is better to finish last, than to never have started.” To help her reach her goals, Cathy partnered with a Cigna health coach through Cigna’s Healthy Living program. Together, they created a personalized program to help Cathy increase her strength and stamina, set goals, as well as mentored her on ways to incorporate healthier habits and provided encouragement to help her stay motivated. “Tommy inspired me to make a change. My first steps were working with a Cigna Health Coach. As of today I am doing a walk/run program two to three times a week, plus a long walk/run on the weekend, totaling 10 miles a week.”

Last summer, Cathy entered Cigna’s annual employee contest for the opportunity to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna. To complete the Disney half marathon has been Cathy’s dream since visiting Disney World with her family ten years ago. Cigna employees across the organization voted Cathy a winner and on Saturday, January 7, Cathy and her husband will participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend half marathon. “When I run the half marathon in Disney World, I’ll have my supporters in front of me showing me the way, alongside me encouraging me, and behind me to help push me through those tough times. It’s a great feeling to know you have all these people supporting you!”

After she crosses the finish line at Disney, Cathy looks forward to pursuing new goals including training to run a full marathon. She also speaks to groups about living with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), having been diagnosed herself later in life. Cathy’s passion as a natural health advocate is to help empower others by sharing her personal story and to help inspire others who are touched by a disability—both visible and invisible—to imagine the possibilities.

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I totally commend Cathy for taking on this challenge. Deciding to train and run a half marathon is a big step. But I also identify with her in her motivation because my family motivations me. They keep me going and catch me when I fall and I am sure her family will keep her going every step of her way. She will have an incredible finish and just thinking of her crossing that finish line gives me goosebumps. She will never forget that moment.

Being motivated to run for a healthier and happier life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Cigna makes sure of it and helps you in every way possible, trust me I would know 😉 . Yes, with all my chronic conditions, running doesn’t solve it but I’ll tell you this….if I wasn’t running it would be a lot worse and I would be on a lot more medication than I am now. Running is my life and it makes me happy. Inspiration and motivation is everywhere, just stop and look. =)

-the Scoliosis runner

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