Beechwood teacher overcomes health obstacles to become Step It Up Challenge winner

Veronica Wendell’s neighbors may have caught a glimpse of an unusual sight this fall.

If they looked out their windows, they could see him running around their Aurora home again and again.

It didn’t mean he had taken in too much caffeine.

Wendell was running her final miles in the Step It Up Challenge, a fitness competition sponsored by the Health Action Council, on her way to becoming the top stepper out of more than 500 participants.

“I was really, really proud of myself,” said Wendell, a tutor for at-risk students at Beachwood High School. This if I put my mind to it.

She was also part of the elite group, Team Triple Threat, along with her Beachwood High colleagues Jason Downey and Mark Gray.

Those who have seen Wendall running around the neighborhood or school may not know that he had a special motivation. She was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year and underwent a double mastectomy, and she’s determined not to let that slow her down.

Wendell said, “I wanted to prove that I was not just a survivor, but an accomplished person.”

The Health Action Council is a nationwide organization based in Cleveland that works with hundreds of companies, schools and other organizations to promote healthy habits and lifestyles among employees and their families.

The Step It Up Challenge is held in the spring and fall and is open to teams of at least three employees who attempt to amass the number of steps recorded via Fitbit.

Wendell took the lead in the spring of 2020. She said that because COVID-19 closed schools and everything else, it was easier to find time to run, and she averages 51,000 steps a day.

She said she’s always been competitive and enjoys being outdoors, and started jogging about four or five years ago, with the goal of someday running at least a half-marathon.

She used to run eight miles before school “to kick start my mind, and kick start my body.”

Mark Gray approached her last spring about being a part of the Step It Up Challenge team, but something unexpected intervened.

getting back in step

Wendell, 40, underwent a biopsy for possible breast cancer in May, and the results were fatal. He had surgery in late July. She didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment, which helped speed up her recovery.

She was supposed to be out of work for six weeks, but the dedicated teacher returned after three.

“From the beginning it was important for my students to be there,” Wendall said.

The Step It Up Challenge gave him extra incentive to get back in shape.

Wendell said, “I wanted to show myself that nothing was taken from me and that my experience made me stronger.”

Of course, his strength and stamina were much lower than they were before the surgery. She set small goals for herself as she built up her stamina.

While she had reconstructive surgery “I was learning to jog again,” she said. “You’re learning to rebalance your body, getting into a different rhythm and pace.”

All this time, she was juggling work, home life and medical appointments. “I would come home and say ‘Oh my God, I’m so tired,'” but she continued to push herself.

Wendall said her husband, Kevin, was “a huge support”.

His students were big boosters. “They used to tell me ‘You’ve got it, you can do it!'” Wendell hoped his actions inspired kids to follow his advice until you succeed.

And so were his fellow teammates, who were pushing themselves to the limit.

“I didn’t want to let them down,” Wendall said.

During his last marathon weekend, he logged 50,000 steps on the first day, 70,000 on the second day, and 80,000 on the last day, Sunday. That last stop covered a distance of about 45 miles in about nine hours.

Team Triple Threat ended up logging 2,472,344 steps, an average of 824,114, and earned a $300 donation to either a school garden project or the Ronald McDonald House. Wendl received a new Fitbit for his personal achievement.

The fall challenge consisted of 39 teams with 504 participants who took 110,846,394 steps.

“It was fun to see what other competitors all over the country were doing on a daily basis, and it motivated me to stay active throughout the day,” said Beechwood High School counselor Jason Downey.

Haven’t been vandalized. She still has her eye on running the half and full marathon, and possibly a three-peat at the Step It Up Challenge, though she said she may have to wait two more years.

The Spring Step It Up Challenge will take place from March 20 to April 16. The last date to register is March 17 and the singing up is free. For information, visit https://go.healthactioncouncil.org/l/496131/2022-04-19/ 4hpn2l or contact Noelle Reinhart at [email protected]

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