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A family that trains together fits together

By: Vernonica Burniston
Freelance Writer

Often when one thinks about setting goals or pursuing lifelong dreams, the words “New Year’s Resolution” surface, words that bring just as much anxiety and pressure as excitement and change. In most cases, these resolutions are made by and for individuals who seek success in some area of their lives, whether it be health, finances, relationships, or something else entirely. But what happens when the individual’s goal becomes a family’s goal? What happens when a long and arduous journey becomes a shared expedition rather than a lone trek through the wilderness? That, dear reader, is when a single, insurmountable goal becomes an attainable one.
Beginning in early summer, the Harkness family of Gray, Tennessee, along with the Henson family in Mountain City, started their own shared expedition toward a common and often difficult goal focused on weight management/loss and overall bodily fitness. This shared goal developed into a challenge that not only brought the families together, but provided encouragement and accountability. It was an opportunity for the family to learn and grow together, as well as a challenge to ascend to greater heights and to prove that one is capable of far more than he or she ever imagined.
Created by Kevin and Jessica (Stout) Harkness, the Family Fitness Challenge is a 14-week program that challenges not just an individual but the entire family to make and pursue a goal for better health. Starting with the simple desires for losing weight and exercising on a regular basis, the Family Fitness Challenge has brought new experiences and, in some cases, a love for running and physical fitness to the participants. Through listing attainable goals, keeping tabs of weight in a weekly newsletter sent to each participating family member, formulating exercise plans, sharing recipes, giving and receiving encouragement, and relying on one another as accountability partners, the Harkness/Henson family has made remarkable progress in overcoming challenges and improving their lives as a whole. Their story serves as a wonderful example of how family or friends can unite and work together toward goals that might otherwise seem daunting to an individual. And it is this type of accountability between friends and family, this sharpening of iron against iron, that gives one the strength to move forward, to lift boulders, and to live life with courage and abandon.

Within this 14-week challenge, the Harkness/Henson family as a whole lost nearly 72 pounds and recently participated in the Eastman Road Race 10K in Kingsport, Tennessee. Seven of the nine participants competed for their first time in races of longer distances, some of them reaching their 14-week goals by doing so. After the Road Race, each member of the family celebrated an accomplishment, something he or she attained in the experience: Kevin and Jessica Harkness achieved personal records in the 10K race while Rebekah Smith and Judy Henson completed their first 10K; Samantha Henson and Lisa Stout also completed their first 3K race, Jean Henson walked her first 3K, and two of the children competed in a fun run. In all, the Eastman Road Race proved to be a fruitful experience for the entire family, the results inspiring them to continue in their journeys and to set new goals to pursue in the future.
“When I began I could barely do the 90 seconds of jogging without being bent over and out of breath,” Judy Henson noted. “Now I can do six miles.”
According to Jessica (Stout) Harkness, the Family Fitness Challenge is applicable to any area of one’s life, health-oriented or not. She recommends looking at difficulties as challenges to overcome –races to run–something that a good “support system” can get involved in and help one reach his or her goals. It’s within this family support system that the real courage begins to blossom; it’s here where one can really start to think ‘I can do this’ or, better yet, ‘we can do this.’ The true strength of family challenges versus individual challenges arises with the simple yet effective “motivation of accountability”–that moment when one realizes he or she is not alone on the journey, but a part of something bigger, something stronger, something that weaves individuals together into a wonderfully whole design. So as the slogan for the Family Fitness Challenge states: A FAMILY that trains together, FITS together.