Cassi Johnson

Cassi has worked for the City for one year with the Office of Financial Services (OFS) as a Senior Innovation Consultant. In her job, she supports leaders and teams in the City on projects that catalyze innovation, redefine City services and/or improve performance.

While in college, Cassie worked on a farm doing manual labor tasks. It was there that she suffered a serious back injury which resulted in acute back pain. She was treated with chiropractic and physical therapy for many years while battling chronic pain. It had been a challenge ever since that injury to determine what activities should be avoided that might cause a flare up.

For the past four years, however, she found help by using a different modality of treatment with the Institute for Athletic Medicine (IAM). The first difference she noted with IAM was all the diagnostics they did to really zero in on what treatment plan would be best for her rather than a generalized program for anyone. The No. 1 priority for IAM is to get the individual back to exercising which ultimately will help with fewer flare ups. Surprisingly to her, she found out that Yoga and Pilates were not something she should do which was a disappointment to her as she had always enjoyed that. What she found did work for her, however, was regular walking, running and lifting weights. She began working with a personal trainer who helped her get over her fear of lifting weights and will help her modify movements as needed. While it may sound counterintuitive to lift heavy weights, fewer repetitions are done which puts less stress on her joints than lighter weights and high repetitions. She stresses that this is what works for her and not necessarily others with back pain.

Cassie has two young children now and it is important to be active with them. She doesn’t lose time off work because of her injury. By sticking with her exercise program of weight lifting, walking/running, and staying aware of her movements, she has been able to reduce the likelihood of painful flare-ups. Even though she has gained strength she knows she still needs to be careful about performing certain movements. She recommends that others suffering from chronic back pain find a trusted professional with whom to work to personalize a program specific to their injury.

Healthy St. Paul Runs TCM

This year, for the first time, Healthy Saint Paul sponsored a team in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (TCM). The Corporate Team Challenge is designed to get employees of all ages and abilities moving.

By joining the City team, employees can enjoy extra perks and amenities on race day like use of a heated tent with a changing area at the finish line along with special food, massage, and door prizes. If you choose to pack a gym bag in advance with dry clothing, they will also make sure it is in the tent for you at the end of the race.
The creation of the City of Saint Paul team happened somewhat late in the game this year though we were able to sign up six team members. We know there are more City employees who ran this race and want to encourage you or other first time TCM runners to be part of this team in 2018. Regular, single registration rates apply but there is no cost to be part of the team. The City’s team came in 19 out of 29 using age-graded scoring – a good showing considering this our first year with few members. Recognition is also awarded to the top three teams with the greatest number of runners – we hope to have a shot at that award next year. Watch for more information on joining the City of Saint Paul TCM 2018 team in February when registration opens.

Team members included one who has run every TCM since its beginning to a first time marathoner. They came from various departments: Dave Gontarek, PED; John McCarthy, OFS; Amanda Feist, Library; Alice Messer, Parks; Bridget Morales, OFS; and Joe Ellickson, PW. Despite the differences in their marathon running experience, the team members’ personal experiences for this marathon were similar. First of all, they all said they had a great time, which was a primary goal. The TCM is known as the most beautiful marathon in the US, to which they all agreed. They all were so grateful and amazed at the support and encouragement the cheering crowd provided. Also, enjoying the benefit of the heated tent that is only available to corporate team members made a big difference. Joe compared that end of race experience to like being bumped up to first class on a long flight. Those on this year’s team who decide to run it next year will definitely join the City of Saint Paul team.

Below is more about each of the runners.

Dave Gontarek

Dave is by far the most experienced TCM runner, being 1 of only 22 runners who have run every TCM since its inception 36 years ago. Despite his extensive experience, he learns something new each time. This year he learned that even if no rain is forecast, he should bring a garbage bag to the starting line to use as a cover, just in case. As it turned out, it rained quite hard at the starting line and again at the end so he was soaked. He still had a fabulous time.
Dave admits he isn’t as driven to run as hard as he did in his earlier days. He is slower than when he was younger, but runs it for the enjoyment. His goal is just to run the whole race and not walk. He is okay with that. He likes to say that “without the back of the pack there can’t be a front of the pack.”
The benefit of the heated tent at the end of the race was great as he could warm up, change out of his wet clothes, and get food. He will be running next year’s marathon. Dave quoted a runner who said “In running, as in life, you can’t fail as long as you keep moving”. Anyone who intends to run it next year should spend some time talking with Dave about all he has learned over the years of running this beautiful marathon.

John Mccarthy

This was John’s fourth TCM and fifth marathon overall. John’s father was a marathon runner and got him into running at an early age. He lives along the course so most years participates in one of the sponsored events along with his wife. John really pushed it this year, and it turned out to be his best time yet, qualifying him for the Boston Marathon next year. While at the end he felt the consequences of pushing himself so hard, he learned from that and will not make the same mistakes next year. He thinks the TCM is the most well organized race he has done. He recognizes this happens as the result of a number of City employees from Police and Fire that work to keep it running smoothly and safely. The cheering crowd is also so motivating in helping to keep runners going.
As for being part of the Corporate team, he got to know a few people in the City he didn’t know before, and it was nice for the camaraderie. In the future, he sees joining the team as another way to network and connect with other City employees in a more social way.

Bridget Morales

This was Bridget’s second marathon and her best, despite the rain, wind and development of some foot issues during the race. She finds the crowd support so helpful. She saw several City workers and friends along the way who cheered her on. At the end, Bridget was most grateful for the warm tent as a place to comfortably sit down, warm up and get food and drinks like hot soup, sandwiches and Gatorade without having to walk much further. The changing tent and massage were also a big plus. Bridget advises anyone contemplating a marathon to start by finding and following one of the many training programs that are available online or join a running group. It is a lot of training to do but you will find that you can do so much more than you thought you could.

Amanda Feist

This year’s TCM was Amanda’s first marathon. She started running about 2 years ago after she bought a jogging stroller for her children. Before this year, she had only run a few 5Ks. Amanda knew other people who were going to be running the TCM this year so decided to sign up for it in April. She combined a couple training programs to keep her on track and help with her nutrition as well. Though she admits the weather was crummy, and she suffered an injury at Mile 15, she thought it was fun. Her training is what helped her power through her struggles to the end. Also, there was so much good energy from the crowd that helped keep her going. She is contemplating participating next year and sees the benefit of being part of the City team. She sees it as motivational as it provides a sense of running for something bigger than yourself. Training runs together would be great. It would also be nice to have time to get together with team members before the race. As a selling point also for running a marathon, she sees it as really good experience for anyone who has project management in their job responsibilities as you have to be committed to it. it is not something you can do on a whim.

Alice Messer

Alice’s first marathon was Grandma’s in 2004. That was before she had children so since then, she has been running one or two ½ marathons a year which involves less training time than a full marathon Alice takes advantage of her lunch break to run during the week, using Saturday mornings for her longer runs. She decided to run TCM this year after a friend asked her to join her. There were so many people out there cheering everyone on. While the weather was a bit cold at the end, she thought it was a great experience. She met her goals of having fun and not walking and beat her previous time. If she decides to do it again next year, she will definitely join the City team.

Joe Ellickson

Joe is an experienced marathon runner, having run six in the past along with other long distance races. By far, he thinks the TCM is the most beautiful of all. He reiterated what the other team members had said about the crowd being so encouraging along the way. For any runners out there contemplating a marathon, he highly recommends choosing this one. Joe was so thankful for getting to be part of the Saint Paul team which provided the use of the heated tent. It made so much difference to the end of this race experience compared to other races he has finished. He felt like he had been bumped up to first class on an airline seat. From entering the warm tent, he was greeted by the volunteers and given the opportunity to enter a drawing – in which he won a great prize. There was hot soup and coffee, sandwiches, and other treats. Because the heated tent is only provided to corporate team members, he didn’t have to wait long to get a massage and, best of all, no long lines at the toilets. He encourages any City employee who plans on running next year to become part of the City team.

Joe Beatty

Joe Beatty has worked for the City since May, 2013. He presently is a heavy vehicle mechanic for the Fire Department.

As a teenager, Joe was very overweight. He recalls a vacation to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with high school friends during which he almost sunk the canoe. At that time, he was 100 lbs. heavier than he is now. After that, he decided to make a change. He began to exercise and control portion sizes.

When Joe first started working for the City, he had just come back from his second military deployment to the Middle East. It was the lightest he had ever been. His job overseas had him moving around a lot. Also, there weren’t distractions to his fitness routine or temptations to overeat.

It was a struggle when he first returned from that deployment to get back into “normal society”. Gradually though, he got back into an active exercise routine. He was living close to work so he decided to bike to work. He soon added biking to the gym every day. He enjoyed biking so much that even when he moved to where he presently lives in St. Louis Park, 12.5 miles away, he continued to bike to work. Joe isn’t just a fair weather biker either. He will bike to work every day throughout the winter unless the temp drops below 0 or there are glare ice conditions. He misses only a few days each winter because of weather. He is happiest when he is biking.

Joe is 45 years old now and much healthier than he was as a teenager. At one time he thought that being overweight was just the life that he had been dealt but he knows now it is all about choices. That doesn’t mean it is always easy for him though. He admits to not getting in the fruits and vegetables he knows he needs. Portion sizes can also be a challenge. He would like to lose 20 lbs. He recommends when snacking to avoid foods that come in a wrapper unless its one that Mother Nature provides.

Joe knows bicycling isn’t for everybody; it is what he enjoys. He believes you owe it to yourself though to find something to keep you active and to live the healthy life that you deserve.

photo: Joe pictured with girlfriend Hope

Beverly Farraher

Beverly Farraher has been working for the Public Works Department as the Operations Manager since March 2016. Before coming to the City, Beverly worked the previous 27 years at MnDOT, particularly for 12 years in Metro District Maintenance Operations. During her tenure there, due to noticed trends in injuries that were preventable that front line field workers were experiencing and the awareness of other businesses’ success in accident reduction, she instituted a daily stretching program that had been developed and implemented by the St. Cloud District of MnDOT. In a short time, a drop in workplace injuries resulting in workers compensation claims was seen.

When Beverly began working at Public Works, it became clear that the work done by the field employees here was equally tough on people’s bodies. The Department cares about its employees and wanted to be able to send them home each day with their body in at least the same condition as when they came to work. Knowing the amount of time a stretching program would involve and weighing the pros and cons, a mandatory stretching program was instituted throughout Public Works. Each day, the stretching program begins promptly at the beginning of each division’s shift. Everybody (except those with documented medical limitations) must participate. Office workers are invited to join as well. It takes about 12 -14 minutes to complete all the stretches.

The feedback on the program has been mostly positive. Employees are reporting feeling better. Since the program starts promptly at the exact beginning of the shift, it also encourages employees to be ready to go for announcements and assignments at that time. Before or after that, a lot of chatting goes on among the employees too while doing their stretching, and there is a sense of community building as a side benefit. Some employees also voluntarily stretch again after lunch. As the program has been rolling out over time, there will be an opportunity to review trends in workers compensation injuries but Bev notes that it is not possible to measure events or injuries that do not occur. The investment of time into employees’ wellbeing is the right thing to do and a wise long-term investment.

Eric Whalen

Eric has worked for the City as a Library Associate for the past five years. His job mostly entails after school programming for youths and adults of all ages. He works in the homework center program at the Rondo branch. He also coordinates the volunteers and academic support for the library.

Despite working for the City for five years, Eric had never participated in the well-being program. This year he decided to take advantage of it.
Participating in the Omada program to fulfill the coaching requirement of the well-being program appealed to him. While he admits he is not at his ideal weight, he wasn’t overly concerned about losing a lot of weight but rather getting more physically fit and eating healthier.

After signing up for Omada, he received their “fancy scale” which automatically sends his weight to his coach each time he weighs. His phone has a step tracker that he turned on to make reporting his activity easy too.

Because he was also interested in improving his strength, he joined the Jimmy Lee Rec Center, taking advantage of the $30 yearly membership fee for City employees to any rec center in the City.

The Omada program requires tracking what you eat as well, which Eric admits he is not that fond of doing. However, he feels it is valuable to do as it is so easy to not really look at what you are eating. His coach provides positive feedback that helps keep him going. The weekly lessons provide tips that are helpful in selecting better choices at the grocery store. He chooses turkey bacon now over regular bacon, for example. Eric was never a “fruit person” but now has eaten more fruit this year than he thinks in his whole life – and he likes it!

Eric has completed the nine lessons he needs to count towards the well-being program but will keep going through the rest of the program. He said he would probably do it again next year if offered – though his goal will be to not qualify for it!

They Made A Move!

The Make a Move six week team challenge ended on May 19. This month we want to acknowledge all the employees who participated. The Make a Move challenge was somewhat different than past challenges as teams tracked minutes of activity that could include flexibility and strength training as well as steps. Twelve teams competed and by the end of the challenge, they had averaged more than 13,000 steps per day, far ahead of the recommended 10,000 steps. The winning 12 member team was the DSI Step Warriors. They pulled way ahead averaging 19,725 steps per day! So amazing! Now, you may think that this was a group of young, highly trained marathon runners or fitness fanatics. The truth is the team was made up of average employees who recognize the benefits of exercise and were up for a challenge. How did they do this? Well, we asked them to tell us about themselves and their experience with the challenge. Below are responses from a few members of the team.

Diane LaCasse:

Diane has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her knees, spine, ankles, shoulders, hands, etc. Seven years ago, she had her left hip replaced and her right hip was replaced last year. She is acutely aware of the need to move. Despite the osteoarthritis, Diane has been walking a lot for years, using her FitBit to track her distance with a goal of 12,000 steps per day. For the Make a Move Challenge, she upped her daily steps to help support her team.

Zoua Lee:

Zoua joined the challenge because she thought it would be fun to be on a team and compete against other teams. She enjoyed walking with teammates and getting to know her co-workers more. Now that the challenge is over, she plans to continue walking.

Herlinda Kamas:

Herlinda knows that walking will help with her diabetes. Her co-workers urged her to join the in this challenge because she walks all day in her job anyway, and it would be a way to get motivated to get in even more steps. Her teammates encouraged her every day. Herlinda says that being part of a team is like having cheerleaders! Now that the challenge is over, she plans to continue walking and tracking her steps.

Annette Wald:

As part of the Omada Program in which Annette has been participating, she was already walking regularly before the challenge. She was motivated to join the challenge to be part of a team. As they walked together, they would talk about their daily steps and activities and where they could do better. She plans to continue walking to help reach her weight loss goal.

For winning the Make a Move Challenge, the participants received our new long-sleeve Healthy Saint Paul t-shirts.

Healthy Saint Paul will continue to offer challenges in the future. We hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to challenge yourself with the support of teammates and have fun at the same time.

Daphne VanBuren

While Daphne VanBuren, Assistant City Attorney, was in law school she liked to say the only reason she would ever run is if she were being chased. Back then, she was attending law school nights and weekends and working during the day. She was in what she calls survival mode. She wasn’t getting enough sleep, not exercising and eating poorly.

In 2012 at age 34, years after graduating and working as a lawyer in the Attorney General’s Office, Daphne was inspired by a coworker to try running. The first miles were not easy. But a group of coworkers decided to take on the challenge of Grandma’s half marathon and Daphne signed up as well. As she looks back, she recalls how rough she felt after the race. Everything hurt. Over the next couple years, she continued signing up for different races and events to stay motivated.

By 2014, Daphne was ready to take on the challenge of the Twin Cities Marathon. This time she followed a training program and was well prepared to run it. At the end of that race, she felt better than when she had finished the half marathon two years before.

Training for a marathon is not all running; Daphne also realized the importance of eating a healthy diet. The change in her diet evolved over the years. As a result of the physical demands of running and a better diet, Daphne lost several clothing sizes, losing fat and gaining muscle.

While many people would be satisfied with reaching a goal of completing a marathon, Daphne was ready for more. Her first 50K (approximately 31 miles) was the Grand Island Trail Marathon along Lake Superior. She loved the beautiful, serene trail and felt great at the finish line. She plans on another 50K on the Superior Hiking Trail this fall.

Daphne continues training throughout the winter averaging 30 miles a week. When it is really cold, she just dresses for it and is motivated by thinking about running in May when this winter training will all pay off.

Daphne turns 39 this year and feels that she is in the best shape of her life. While there still are the occasional potato chips, etc. she has lost a little more weight, has plenty of energy and sleeps well. It is sometimes hard to leave work at the office at the end of the day and going out for a run provides a good mental break. She believes that running makes her nicer, calmer and a much better office partner.

As long as her body is able, Daphne plans on continuing to run. The physical and emotional rewards she gets out of running are something she can’t quantify. While she understands marathons and 50K races are not goals for a lot of people, getting outside and moving, whether bicycling, walking, running, or something else can benefit anyone. The important step is just to begin.

Sergeant Brian Casey

Sergeant Brian Casey, current Employee Assistance Program Director (EAP) for the Saint Paul Police Department, has had an enduring interest in health and wellbeing, especially behavioral health with its focus on mental health and addiction. He earned a BS in Health Education from the University of Minnesota. After graduation, he spent several years working as a paramedic and EMS educator at Hennepin County Medical Center. In 2006, he left a position training paramedics at Inver Hills Community College to become a Saint Paul Police Officer. In 2012, Brian was promoted to sergeant and in 2014 became the Director of the Police Department’s EAP. “I feel really fortunate to find myself all these years later as a Saint Paul police officer making use of my college degree and all my experience working in public safety.”

In his current role, Brian assures the availability of EAP services to all police department employees and their family members. Services include private coaching, peer support, and therapeutic sessions with contracted licensed mental health professionals. The department actively educates officers in an effort to get ahead of some of the issues that cause mental and emotional distress. Brian provides health education to officers at roll calls, academy classes and in-service training. He believes that a high-functioning EAP is valuable to all employees and their families. Whether or not they find the need to use it, confidence that impactful and trustworthy resources are available brings peace of mind.
Brian knows that in order to be effective he must keep himself healthy, asserting, “I don’t always maintain a healthy balance, but I keep trying.” He watches his diet, eating healthy most of the time. His fitness routine has changed since working as a patrol officer.

At that time, his focus was on strength and endurance. His priorities were to prevent injury, maintain physical confidence, and be prepared to prevail when faced with resistance and aggression. As he has aged and his job changed, he now focuses more on flexibility, mobility, core strength and good sleep hygiene.
For mental and emotional wellness, Brian benefits from feeling well suited for the job, through education, experience and temperament. “Though I have always felt that whatever job I held at the police department was the most important job in the police department, being the EAP Director is some of the most challenging and rewarding work I have ever done. Most inspiring is sharing in how different work groups, especially the patrol officers, are able to find personal meaning and a higher sense of purpose in what they do, while sometimes being exposed to really awful stuff. I could not admire these people more.”

Employees who are not members of the Police Department can receive EAP services through HealthPartners by calling 866-326-7194 or logging on to their website at www.hpeap.com and enter password: saintpaul

Asha Shoffner

Asha Shoffner has worked for the City for two years as the YJ01 Program Manager for Right Track. Right Track serves Saint Paul youth who come from a low income household or have a barrier to employment (such as chemical dependency, limited English proficiency, or a disability) by placing them in jobs or paid internships throughout the City. She manages around 200 youth during the school year; nearly 450 during the summer.

Asha tries to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. When I called to schedule the interview, she suggested making it a walking interview. She explained her job involves a lot of desk time, so whenever possible she will set up mobile meetings with colleagues.

Asha has been instrumental in getting fellow employees together in being healthy. She has coordinated several ‘Fitbit’ or ‘step’ challenges with co-workers to help build a sense of community and friendly competition. She put together a ‘Build a Salad’ event for the colleagues on her floor as well as for a racial equity change team meeting. As the weather warms, she will be reaching out to co-workers to join her in biking to work. Asha is always looking for colleagues who work out at the YMCA.
While Asha loves the outdoors and being active in nature, she knows that spending time outdoors is not always accessible for everyone. This motivated her to start a grassroots movement called Fiwygin Outdoors (which is pronounced “Fusion Outdoors”).

Fiwygin is an acronym that stands for Fit In Where You Get In, and her role as the founder is to make sure that everyone can “get in.” Fiwygin Outdoors strives to eliminate any barriers that folks have to getting outside by making it fun, accessible, sustainable, and welcoming to all people – with an extra shout out to underrepresented groups (including but not limited to people of color, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and people with limited income/resources/experience/mobility). Fiwygin Outdoors operates year round and hosts monthly events like hiking, fishing, canoeing, kite flying and more. Events are free and intentionally designed with non-ableist language and multiple access points, ensuring that all can truly fit in and get in.

To learn more about Fiwygin Outdoors, check out www.facebook.com/groups/fiwyginoutdoors. To join Asha on a bike ride, a visit to the Y, a meander through downtown, or anything else active, feel free to reach out to her! She loves connecting with new people and being active.

Rose Oyamot

Rose Oyamot is a Library Associate in the Youth Services area at the Central Library. She has worked for the City for two years. Some of the things her job includes are presenting story time to children, helping patrons with library requests, and helping to build community outreach.

Seven years ago, Rose was unhappy about her weight. Her wedding was in one year, and she wanted to be in better shape for it. She found the support and motivation she needed by joining Weight Watchers. It changed the way she looked at food and her meals. She added activity as well and lost 30 pounds by her wedding. After the wedding, she kept up the healthy eating and working out. But then – children came along.

Rose did well up until the last trimester of her first pregnancy when she just let it go and put on a lot of weight. After her daughter was born, it was hard for her to transition back to eating healthy. There just didn’t seem to be time to do meal planning, exercising or generally taking care of herself. Last year, her son was born. At that time, Rose knew it was time to add activity to increase her energy and to lose weight so she could fit back into her clothes and feel good about herself.
She couldn’t wait for the Healthy Saint Paul 2017 program to begin. It would help provide the motivation to get her in gear. At biometric screening, her BMI results were a real wake up call for her.

When Rose heard about the Omada program, she knew it was right for her. She wouldn’t have to go anywhere to participate, reporting to a coach provided the accountability she was looking for and there was group support. She began the program just one week ago. She enjoys hearing what she says are “real people challenges and then responses from others in her group as to how they dealt with similar challenges.” It is a very supportive online environment. She has emailed with her coach three times so far and finds it magical that she can step on the scale that Omada provided and her results are automatically fed into her account.

While it has only been one week since she began, she is very enthusiastic. She has been spreading her enthusiasm to co-workers. Some have not been aware of the program and she encourages them to take a look if losing weight and getting healthier is a goal of theirs. Plus, it is free!

Besides being healthier, more physically active and having more energy to enjoy her family, Rose has another goal. She has begun a YouTube channel so looking better on camera is motivating her to lose weight. We wish her luck with her YouTube channel – you can check it out at “Ukulele Storytime.” It has easy video tutorials on how to play the ukulele along with story time songs.