I wish I could bring you into my son’s kindergarten classroom. It’s a happy, colorful place where little people are learning big things, like how to read and count to 100, and lead with kindness.
They are learning those things thanks to two special adults who have more patience in a pinky than I have coursing through my entire body. One of those adults is Ben’s teacher, Mrs. Hilliard. The other is the full-time class aide, Ms. Kathryn.
In our family, when we see a teacher outside of school, it is a full-blown celebrity sighting. To think that they would eat in a restaurant where we eat or shop in a grocery store where we shop is preposterous! My son’s 5-year-old mind cannot yet grasp the concept of a teacher being a mom or a daughter or a friend, or really having any sort of life outside of school at all.
It’s pretty cute.
I, of course, have a much more evolved brain and therefore completely understand that the teachers in our lives have lives of their own. So then why was I so surprised to see Ms. Kathryn at the same 5K race that I was attending? She runs? Teachers run?
I crossed through the crowd of runners like a fish swimming sideways through the current and matched my pace to hers. Then I forgot I was running while Ms. Kathryn told me why she was there.
Kathryn’s dad had diabetes. Her mother, brother and one of her sisters have all dealt with diabetes. When her brother, whom she considered to be the healthiest member of the bunch, had a stroke, it really threw her for a loop. Kathryn, a busy mom of two teenage boys, looked in the mirror and realized she needed to make some changes.
Kathryn entered a yearlong diabetes prevention program where she found the encouragement to try new foods and new activities. In March of 2014, she joined a friend who wanted to do a “couch to 5K” training program.
Now, maybe I should pause here and tell you that Kathryn told me her former mindset was, “If you see me running, it’s because someone’s chasing me. My knees are bad, my boobs are too big, it’s too hot or too cold, and I’m too heavy.”
This was not an easy endeavor for her. The first day, she says she could barely run one minute. But she took the first step and then many steps after that.
To stay motivated, she and her friend decided to enter a 5K race each month. She’s crossed the finish line at Dash for a Donation, Race for the Cure, Run Like Hell, Reindeer Dash, Superhero 5K, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Run and a whole lot more. Some are personal, with causes that really tug on their hearts, and some are not, but snow or sun, Kathryn is there. And now, less than two years later and 55 pounds lighter, she runs the whole thing.
Kathryn has seen other changes in her health since modifying her diet and exercise. Her blood pressure is back to normal, she has more energy, she sleeps better, and her husband says his wife doesn’t reach for the Tylenol anymore. Her frequent headaches are long gone.
Kathryn says even small efforts have big rewards. “It’s really important to try to take care of yourself. Little changes do make a difference. If you drink pop, can you drink something else? It’s important to put your cellphone away, turn off the TV and spend time with people. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy. I wear a pedometer, and nothing makes me happier than hitting my goal of 10,000 steps before lunch.”
There is a reason Kathryn has the energy to make my son’s kindergarten classroom a place of fun and enjoyment. She has the ability to be kind to others because she has first chosen to be kind to herself.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.