Whether it’s implementing a personal training regimen or modeling exercise patterns, putting our bodies in motion can inspire others to do the same. Meet three members of our Mid-America Union whose stories of putting health principles into action can motivate all of us to follow their lead.

Nikki Cowgill

Nikki Cowgill works part time as a P.E. teacher at Wichita Adventist Christian Academy, and she truly leads her students by example. She trains in a group setting at her local High Impact Interval Training (HIIT) gym and finds it especially motivating to exercise with other like-minded athletes who encourage her to push her body to the limit. Nikki is a natural introvert, so she appreciates exercising solo as well, but she’s enjoyed finding a group that reminds her to drop her ego at the door and humbly work alongside others—just like the discipline of joining members of the body of Christ within a church community. 

Nikki says, “Working out together is how growth happens, and we all benefit from one another’s presence and commitment. I find that cheering on fellow athletes as they push through the pain motivates me to find my edge and get used to discomfort.”

Nikki finds rewards for her labors: a boost in both her mood and stamina. “My students notice and often ask, ‘Mrs. Cowgill, how come you have so much energy?’ Hard work, my friends.”

But for Nikki the benefit of fitness goes beyond boosting energy and stamina; it’s helped strengthen her relationship with God and deepened her appreciation for the beauty of creation. Having just returned from an Alaska adventure, she is freshly inspired to get out often and experience the solace and rejuvenating power of fresh air and wildlife, whether on vacation in a grand setting, or just on a walk with her dogs in her own Kansas neighborhood. “I think that if I didn’t exercise, my world would be much smaller,” she says. “I don’t know that I would get out much and experience His glory. It is an honor and privilege to care for my body, mind and spirit.”

In her P.E. classes at WACA, Nikki tackles the alarming rise in childhood obesity and sedentary habits like increased screen-time. She also makes sure kids have fun tracking their fitness progress and playing outside together. Nikki says, “In my P.E. class, instead of a monotonous, old-school gym class approach, I really strive to make fitness engaging and fun. It’s a delight to see students starting to invest in their own fitness. It gives them a sense of ownership and self-confidence when they do make some progress.”

One of Nikki’s favorite quotes from Ellen White that speaks to the value of quality P.E. classes is, “Whatever promotes physical health, promotes the development of a strong mind and a well balanced character” (Education p. 195). Adventist education’s approach to a child’s development is holistic—helping a child grow spiritually, mentally, socially, academically and physically.

Nikki cherishes her opportunity to encourage young people to be active, guiding them to understand why exercise is so important, learn the skills to do it right, and to see the value in becoming lifelong movers.

Dr. Caleb Gillham

Dr. Caleb Gillham is a family practice doctor at Via Christi hospital in Wichita, Kansas. At work he regularly encounters patients experiencing health conditions that could be radically altered through reducing carbohydrates in their diet (especially simple sugars and junk food snacks) and incorporating even a small amount of exercise into their daily routines. Just as bad habits and sedentary living tend to create a negative spiral in patients of all ages, Caleb tries to encourage those who struggle to find motivation by setting long-term health goals to work toward—just a little bit at a time—which can have a positive chain reaction. 

As evidence of his personal passion for wellness, Caleb is taking on the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon during his first full marathon race in Washington in September. He registered for the Tunnel Marathon near Seattle, and has found the training process both gratifying and humbling.

“I injured myself multiple times by pushing my pace too hard and fast in the beginning,” Caleb says. “I learned the value of slowing down and seeking the advice and coaching of more experienced runners, which can be difficult for type A personalities like myself. But without guidance, it’s easy to push too hard and burn out.” 

Caleb sees the parallel in his spiritual practice as well. It comes down to finding balance and reliable rhythms to make a true habit change. He says, “God created us with the rhythm of work and rest, even creating space in our week on Sabbath for regular rest and recuperation. It’s also healthy to set short-term goals as we look forward to the ultimate long-term goal of heaven. Meanwhile here on earth, we can be good stewards of our mental and physical health if we set a goal, like running a marathon, and work in regular intervals toward achieving it.”

Doris Reile-Kneller

Doris Reile-Kneller is coordinating the 8th annual Let’s Move Day for her church in Great Bend, Kansas. Typically held on the third Sunday in September (Sept. 15 this year), this is a special event for her entire church family, and young and old look forward to getting together as a group to enjoy fresh air and exercise along the conveniently located trail adjacent to their church property.

Doris shared that her favorite element of coordinating Let’s Move Day (now called Adventists InStep For Life by the North American Division Health Ministries Department), is simply seeing her fellow church members get outside together and have fun doing something different from sitting in pews, wearing dressy church clothes. Instead, this event gets the church family into bike helmets and shorts, peddling and laughing—enjoying one another’s company in a relaxed way. 

Dr. Razafindrabe Bell of the local Pain and Spine Clinic sponsors the event each year, and participants have enjoyed the bottles of water and snacks, along with spreading the word to their neighbors in town, inviting whoever wants to join in the bike ride or walk.

The whole idea is to celebrate health and the benefits of exercise. Doris says that in past years there were fewer of these types of community exercise-focused social events around town, but she believes their group has set a trend that many other local churches and social groups now follow.

“In some ways, the popularity of getting groups out on the trails has decreased the numbers of community participants outside our local church,” Doris says. “But I suppose the idea is for more people to get out more often, so it’s good that other groups use the trails now too. Our goal is to enjoy getting active as a whole church. It really is a fun day for everybody.” 

Whitni McDonald Carlson is a freelance writer and educator in Wichita, Kansas.