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A Her Heart Challenge participant sets SMART goals and gets moving

Last Modified: February 29, 2024

Sports & Exercise, Heart Health


Motivation for change comes in different forms for different people at different times. For Laura Gump, the first sign it was time to take action to improve her health, was a piece of happy news. At age 45, she got the news that she was going to be a grandmother. Laura, who has type 1 diabetes, wanted to get her condition under control. “I wanted to be around for him,” she said.

A friend had told Laura about Parkview’s Her Heart Challenge, a wellness program designed to help women receive the education and tools necessary to create healthy change and improve their cardiovascular wellness. Her daughter’s news sparked enough incentive for her to fill out the application.

The second motivator came in a relatable format–a photograph. “Last spring, on vacation, I took a picture with my husband, brother and sister-in-law,” she recalled. “I’d never been that heavy. I looked at the picture and realized I needed to do something.”

The next day, Laura received a call inviting her to come in and interview for the Her Heart Challenge. She considered that the third sign the timing was right for some serious lifestyle adjustments.

Goal setting

The takeaway that helped Laura the most was learning how to set goals in a realistic and achievable way. “The experience taught me that I shouldn’t put too much on my plate at one time,” she said. “But on top of that, I knew that I was ready to set those goals and form a plan to see them through, and that’s huge.”

This is an important part of the curriculum. “We go over SMART goals at the very first session. I want them to narrow their goals down,” Jill Zahm, MSN, RN-C, AHN-BC, program coordinator, Parkview Heart Institute said. “We also talk about the value of baby steps. None of these women went to bed one night without hypertension and woke up the next day with it. Your BMI doesn’t drastically change overnight. It takes time for these things to happen, and it takes time to reverse them. You have to be patient with yourself.”  

While Laura admits the challenge is not a diet program, she did receive education about healthy habits that would support reaching a healthier weight, which has major implications for heart health.

She landed on three goals, ranging from conservative to more ambitious:

  • Drink more water. She began aiming for 10 glasses a day.
  • A better sleep routine. Laura wanted to go to bed at an earlier time so that she could get up earlier and get her workout in.
  • Exercise. Laura wanted more energy, so, she asked for help forming a fitness plan, which included cardio and weight training.

A gym partnership

Knowing that movement is a key ingredient to a healthy lifestyle, and to support participants’ goals, Jill worked with Parkview’s established community partner Turnstone to provide each woman with access to a workout facility.  

“We always have a session where we discuss movement,” Jill said. “I’d been talking to EJ Whitney and Turnstone, and he agreed it would make the most sense to have a meeting there so that he could show them the facility and discuss the importance of physical activity.” After the session, each woman was invited to have an initial in-person meeting with a Turnstone trainer, after which they were gifted a 12-week membership, with access to the track, fitness center and pool, and three private personal trainer sessions.

This proved to be a game-changer for Laura. “The best thing I did was ask for help at the gym,” she said. “They said cardio is a good thing, but you don't have to run. Walking is the best exercise you can do. I started doing some cardio machines to get my heart rate up. I always loved lifting weights when I was younger, so I took advantage of the three training sessions and discovered I liked that coaching better than trying to do it on my own. It was partly the accountability, knowing someone expected me to be there.”

The support of the staff, as well as the Turnstone facility, stood out as one of the biggest benefits of the whole program for Laura. “Moving was my main goal,” she said. “The trainers at Turnstone were more than willing to walk me through the machines, and if I had questions, there was always someone there who could help.” For Laura, who’d taken classes at other gyms, the environment at Turnstone felt comfortable and supportive. “You don't feel like just a number when you walk in. If you’re willing to ask for help, they’re willing to give it. They make you feel seen.”

Permission to make herself the priority

Now a graduate of the challenge, Laura is spending some time reflecting, but not slowing down in her pursuit of her goals.

When she thinks back on where her health got away from her, she has an honest answer. “I don’t think it was just one thing that took me off track,” she confessed. “You just start to become complacent. It can happen when you have children, of course, you’re so busy during that time, and then there’s work and, when you aren’t working, you want to spend time with your family. As my daughter got older, she didn’t need me as much but then my parents did. And I did my everyday things, like landscaping or gardening, so I wasn’t stationary, but I wasn’t working out like I was in my teens and twenties. Life gets so busy. And when it isn’t busy, you just want to relax. But these are all excuses. We realize we should be exercising or going for a walk. We tell ourselves, OK, in the new year things are going to be different. And then we start squeezing some movement in here or there, but then we get comfortable or complacent and, before you know it, you see a picture of yourself and think, who is that?”

For Laura, the timing was right for her to stop being passive and take control of her health and habits. “I’d tell anyone who’s thinking about applying for the challenge, you have to be ready to make the changes. When I hear family and friends talking like I used to, I give the same speech–if you aren’t ready for it, you’ll just keep pushing it off to tomorrow.”

Jill agreed this is a key factor in the success of challenge participants. “That’s why we do face-to-face interviews,” she said. “If you get a letter that says you didn’t get in, it’s not that we didn’t want you, it’s because we sensed you weren’t necessarily ready to receive the information and embrace change.” In addition to SMART goals, Jill and the other challenge coordinators teach the readiness for change model, which outlines the stages as pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. “Once you get to that action or adoption stage, that’s when change has occurred and it’s been embraced, but that doesn’t mean you stop. You have to keep on keeping on so you don’t fall back on old habits.”

These days, Laura has no problem making herself a priority. “I’m more accountable to myself,” she shared. “I’ve always been a bit of a pessimist, but since I started going to bed earlier, getting up and getting my workouts in, I’ve felt more positive.”

Jill, who refers to Laura as a “quiet encourager” has no doubt that Laura will continue on her road to progress. “She really embraced the program and was an inspiration to everyone in the group with her positive attitude.”

Since the spring of 2023, Laura is down 24 pounds. And while she thinks the change isn’t that noticeable on the outside (though those close to her disagree) she’s experiencing much bigger victories. “I feel a lot stronger now and I know I’ve toned up. I have more confidence. I still have a ways to go, but the challenge also taught me to try things I've always thought I wouldn’t like, particularly with food. I have more energy and I just feel good. I can breathe easier.” For Christmas, Laura’s husband got her the perfect gift–six months of personal training at Turnstone. “I’m impatient, but I don’t plan on stopping. I’m not getting discouraged because I know I'm stronger.”

“Jill and this challenge pushed me, supported me and showed me the way. It's great if you let it be but you have to let it, you have to be ready.”

Generosity makes Her Heart possible

The Parkview Her Heart Challenge is made possible by and offered free of charge to participants through donations to the Parkview Health Foundation. Learn how you can make a gift and support incredible programs like the challenge by visiting the Foundation online.

Are you ready for the challenge?

The selection process for the Her Heart Challenge involves an application and interview with the Her Heart Challenge Team. To apply, fill out or download the form here. Printed forms can be mailed to:

Jill Zahm, PPG - Cardiology, Parkview Heart Institute
11108 Parkview Circle Drive
PO Box 5600
Fort Wayne, IN  46895-5600.

Applications can also be faxed to 260-458-5850 or scanned and e-mailed to 


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