Monthly Archives: July 2016

Making the Gym Part of Your Lifestyle

Post by Rodney Jenkins, a Group Exercise Instructor at the REX Wellness Center of Garner. He is also a business teacher, a soccer coach and an athletic trainer with the Wake County Public School system.

After one of my recent water classes in Garner, I had an opportunity to speak to some of our members about our July 10 Garner Sprint Triathlon. Ultimately, the question of training for a triathlon came up and after a short discussion about the training program that many of our participants used, I made the statement that there is a difference between simply working out and training. They asked me, ”what do you mean?”  My response was pretty simple. Working out does require a commitment but it is a commitment that can easily be broken. But training has purpose and requires a commitment that cannot easily be broken.

For various reasons, people walk away from working out at the gym every single day with seemingly no consequences. Some return while others do not.  However, if you’ve ever taken that leap of faith and trained for an event, you know what it feels like to find purpose in the workout. It’s called Race day. Race day is the ultimate reward where you prove to yourself that all of the training was worth the time and effort.  Without race day, it is easy to fall into the Doldrums. (aka, inactivity which I blogged about back in 2012).

Let’s use the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon in Knightdale as a perfect example of an opportunity for commitment and purpose. Race day is Sunday, September 18 (purpose).  As of today, the cost is $ 65.00 but after September 14, it goes up to $75.00 (procrastination fee) eventually going up to $85.00. So let’s say you sign up (commitment) and use an 11 week Sprint Training Program. You grab a calendar and count back 11 weeks from September 14. You begin reading the program and you start training. Week 1, you are excited. Week 2, you realize that this is hard work but you have made a commitment so you keep training. Week 3, you ask yourself, what have I gotten myself into?  I can miss a workout or two but I can’t stop and certainly cannot quit going to the gym (purpose and commitment). Week 4, you start to feel stronger and your confidence grows, you begin to understand what training is all about and start to see real purpose in swimming, cycling and running. Before you know it, September 14 has arrived and thanks to the training program you committed to 11 weeks ago, you are ready. Will you be successful? Until you sign up, the end of the story cannot be written.

It was not at all difficult to create this scenario because I see it played out over and over again. When members sign up for an event and find purpose in their training, the gym becomes part of their lifestyle and they are less likely to walk away. Purpose in your gym routine seems to make the commitment to a gym membership all worthwhile. So how do you start? Talk to a runner or triathlete at your wellness center. If you are in Garner, talk to me and I will be happy to show the path toward finding your Race/Reward Day.

Here are a couple of pictures from the Garner Triathlon.

Garner Triathlon

Leave a comment

5 Reasons Teens Should Limit Caffeine

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that teenagers consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. (See a chart from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that shows how much caffeine is in popular drinks.) Why? Consuming high amounts of caffeine can cause irritability, nervousness, rapid heartbeat and anxiety.


Here are five more good reasons to help teens limit their daily caffeine intake.

  1. Empty calories — many caffeinated drinks also have lots of sugar and fat. Drinking too much soda may rob teens of valuable nutrients like calcium.
  2. Dental problems — drinking coffee or tea can stain teeth. The sugar in many caffeinated beverages can lead to cavities.
  3. Trouble sleeping — caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep at night, which could lead to insomnia and daytime sleepiness.
  4. Heart and head — large amounts of caffeine can raise blood pressure in some people. It can also cause headaches.
  5. The cost — caffeinated beverages can be expensive, especially when you buy coffee drinks from popular coffee chains. Think about how much money you could save if you didn’t spend so much on caffeine!
Leave a comment

Strawberry S’mores

Go fruity with this twist on a summertime favorite! Try this sweet three-ingredient treat without going overboard on the calories. You can also add in raspberries, blueberries or bananas for an extra burst of fruity flavor!


Prep time: 5 minutes
Number of servings: 1


  • 2 strawberries
  • 1 graham cracker (broken in half)
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat vanilla yogurt


  1. Rinse the strawberries in water.
  2. Slice the strawberries.
  3. Add the yogurt and strawberries to half of graham cracker.
  4. Top with the other half of graham cracker.

Nutritional information per serving: 57 total calories; 1 g fat; 2 g protein; 9 g carbohydrates; 1 g dietary fiber; 64 mg sodium.

Recipe courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,

Leave a comment

Pokémon Go Safety Tips

Pokémon Go surpassed Candy Crush Saga to become the most popular mobile game of all time with the highest amount of active users ever recorded. Here are some tips to keep in mind while playing:

  1. Like the game says, be aware of your surroundings. Don’t play while driving or walking around roads or parking lots. Also, be mindful of your own hiking skill level if you take on challenging terrain while trying to catch that elusive Dratini.
  2. If you plan to play for an extended period, prepare yourself! You should always stretch before exercising. Also, consider taking water with you, it’s hot out there.
  3. Be respectful of real world locations like museums, hospitals, or churches. Some public spaces may take exception to random trainers walking through checking in at a Pokestop. Use your best judgement.
  4. Be careful late at night or visiting remote locations. There have been some reports of robberies. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.
  5. Encourage others to play with you. It is more fun to play with other people, and they can get some exercise too!
  6. Volunteer! Some local animal shelters encourage the community to take their dogs for walks. Why not stop by and walk a dog while you play?
    1. Saving Grace Animals for Adoption
    2. Wake GOV Animal Center
    3. SPCA of Wake County 
Leave a comment

West Virginia Flood 2016

On June 23, 2016, a devastating flood hit the state of West Virginia, taking 26 lives and damaging or destroying more than 1,200 homes. Jim McGrody, Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services, and three UNC REX chefs, Ryan Conklin, Paul Berens, and Steve Pexton volunteered with Mercy Chefs to cook meals for victims, volunteers and first responders in Greenbrier County. In this blog post, Chef Jim McGrody shares his experiences in White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle, West Virginia with his team.


(L-R) Steve Pexton, Ryan Conklin, Jim McGrody, and Paul Berens

Rainelle West Virginia, social media and an old friend

How those things will permanently affect four UNC REX chefs from North Carolina

Last weekend while watching TV, I saw a news clip about the massive flooding that was occurring in West Virginia. As I watched I thought to myself, I know people in West Virginia, and I hoped that they were OK. And like possibly many Americans that was all the thought I really gave it. I hoped that they would be safe but even though it is a state close to North Carolina, it seemed a world away.

That all changed when my old friend and classmate from the Culinary Institute of America, Sue Bastian and her husband Paul Brian Ciciora, started posting pictures on Facebook of the massive destruction. We had been friends for years and followed each other lives through social media.

The pictures on Facebook showed me how they were smack in the middle of a major disaster. I was glued to what was going on there. Sue was a great friend of mine while we were students at the CIA some 26 years ago. I was worried and started thinking about how I could help.

I reached out to her husband Paul who was on site working at a mobile kitchen in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. I asked him how I could help and he told me to check out the nonprofit group he was volunteering with. Paul is a full-time chef at the Greenbrier resort. The resort was closed due to the flooding, so many of the chefs that worked there were volunteering to help feed hundreds of people with absolutely no way to cook food for themselves. It was a community in absolute distress.

The nonprofit he directed me to was Mercy Chefs. This group is out of Virginia and was born out of the need following Hurricane Katrina. They travel the country going from disaster to disaster, helping people not only through nourishment but through spiritual healing as well. I checked them out and knew I had to be part of this. I reached back out to Paul and said that I wanted to help. He gave me the number to the chef in charge, Fred Tiess. After a few emails to Mercy Chefs and to Fred, I saw they desperately needed help. They pride themselves on professionally prepared meals served to people in need. I wanted on this train and said I want to volunteer. I was going to drive to West Virginia some 4 1/2 hours way. I quickly thought of my UNC REX Healthcare chefs and realized that we could use them too.

I texted Ryan Conklin, Paul Berens, and Steve Pexton late Sunday night June 26 and laid out my plan. I told them about my friend, and how I connected on Facebook and how the town they lived in was devastated. I told them about Mercy Chefs and how they needed help and would they want to come with me. In very short order I got return texts: “count me in,” “when do we go” and “hell yeah.” I was so proud of them — they had only basic information but they wanted to help and jumped right on this.

So there we were the next day with blessings from UNC REX leadership (who rock, by the way), driving from Raleigh. Our truck was loaded down with suitcases, knife kits, chef coats, aprons and side towels.

Chef Ryan Conklin drives the Mercy Chefs truck filled with knife kits, chef coats, aprons, side towels and food.

Chef Ryan Conklin drives the Mercy Chefs truck filled with knife kits, chef coats, aprons, side towels and food.

We arrived in White Sulphur Springs about 1 p.m. As we rolled down the highway, everything looked normal. Every once in a while, we would see some damage to trees and dirt and debris on the road but nothing serious that would make us believe a disaster had occurred. We then got off the exit to White Sulphur Springs that all changed.

Our first image was massive destruction of the creek beds, cars upside down, sheds, garages and debris all over the place. We saw a lumber yard that looked like it had been blown up. Construction crews were hard at work everywhere. Front end loaders, bobcats, dump trucks all over the place. People were swarming trying to clean up this major devastation.  We saw tractor trailers literally ripped apart and left in a pile of shredded metal. It was humbling to see such damage.

We didn’t really know where to go so we pulled into a grocery store parking lot. When we did we saw Army medevac helicopters, coming and going.  There were Army medics and civilians giving out tetanus shots, cleaning supplies and bottled water. We had never seen anything like this.

We got to the Mercy Chefs site and were immediately impressed. We met the key players and told them to put us to work. Lunch had already been served so we started to work on dinner. We diced onions, roasted pork loins, cut cabbage and made desserts. We made side salads and generally did whatever they asked of us. This was not our gig — we were volunteers and wanted to help in any way. So if that meant wash dishes or take trash to the dumpster, that is what we did. It was very satisfying to be there.

What we saw was an organization that was deeply committed to helping people. The permanent staff of Mercy Chefs are amazing. Their head chef Walter was a former US Marine Corps cook that had an amazing culinary skill set. He was totally devoted to his mission. In fact, he told me it was his calling. And by the way, it was definitely his kitchen (in a very good way). He was grateful that we had come all the way from North Carolina.

After that meal, we went back to our hotel 30 miles away. There was no water or electricity in the town we were serving. We all said we felt guilty that we had the ability to shower and be in air conditioning. This was something that many in White Sulphur Springs were weeks and possibly months away from having.

Jim McGrody in mobile kitchen

Chef Jim McGrody arranges supplies in the mobile kitchen

The next day we went back to White Sulphur Springs to prep and cook for lunch, but our new mission would be Rainelle, W. Va. This town will forever have an effect on all of us. It certainly has changed me.

This small community of Rainelle was about a 45-minute drive from where we were located. We were told that if you think White Sulphur (as the locals call it) is bad, wait to you get to Rainelle. When we got there, we saw that indeed it was much worse.

White Sulphur had teams of construction crews, grocery stores, food trucks and BBQ tents — Rainelle had none of that.

What we saw was an active military operation. The West Virginia Army National Guard was in charge here. They were everywhere — Humvees, military police, state police and Guardsmen everywhere. They had heavy equipment moving material that was placed in front of homes and businesses. It was bedlam. The stench was at times overbearing. It was a totally different feel than White Sulphur. It was far worse off and it was 6 days since the flood had occurred. The people were visibly torn apart emotionally. They had all lost everything they had ever owned.

What we did not see was adequate port-a -potties, hot food and disinfectants. We had people ask us if we had bleach and another ask us if we had hand sanitizer. It was sad to see all of this unfold in front of us.

We went for a short walk to survey the area when we first got there. We saw cars that were completely covered in mud inside and out. All of these cars were totally destroyed. Houses with water marks 5-6 feet up the side were commonplace. People were scraping mud out of their houses and pulling out sheet rock. There were piles of garbage everywhere we looked. We knew we needed to get to work.

So we set up operations on a corner lot that used to be a car dealer, right next to a trailer dealer. The trailers in that lot were completely destroyed. They looked like a can opener had ripped open the metal. Everything around us was destroyed. People were cleaning out their business all along Main Street. The Army was just down the road using front end loaders to clear debris, which was everywhere. All the homes in the downtown area and I mean all of them were destroyed.

The thing that I remember most was an immense sense of community. You could tell that before the flood, this was a close-knit town. It was even closer in the face of this disaster. Everyone was so nice and thankful that we were there.  They were amazed that we had come from another state and were willing to help. We were like, are you kidding me, this is an honor to be able to help out. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else that day.

One of the commodities’ that we had was fresh fruit — we had bananas, apples, and oranges. People were so happy to see them. Fresh food was pretty scarce at that time. We also had BBQ pork and beans, peach cobbler and a cold marinated vegetable salad. It was a meal many had not seen in more than six days.

About an hour after being there Ryan Conklin found a 5-foot statue of a chef, like the kind you see in some restaurants. We moved him over to our site and put a cardboard sign on him saying we had fresh hot cooked meals and fresh fruit. It was pretty cool. The people in the neighborhood stopped by and took pictures of it.

WV Flood Rescue

It was then that I noticed something that we had not seen since we arrived. People were smiling. They loved the chef statue and for just that one moment they forgot about their loss and just smiled. I couldn’t believe how powerful that was. Kudos to Ryan for making their day just a little bit better. We took the chef back home with us to Raleigh and we will clean it up and bring it to our café.  It will be dedicated to the people of Rainelle, W. Va.

We plated up about 200 meals and we split them up into four trucks. Many of the people in the town could not get to us, so we went to them. Ryan, Steve, Paul and I went to go find some people to feed. Paul and I were on the tailgate of the truck as Ryan drove through the neighborhood. We handed out meals to people as we pulled up beside their homes.  Everyone was so appreciative. It was very emotional for Paul and I and we both got a little teary-eyed when we saw how a simple hot meal had such an effect on people.

Steve Pexton, Ryan Conklin, and Paul Berens help prepare meals with their fellow volunteers.

Steve Pexton, Ryan Conklin, and Paul Berens help prepare meals with their fellow volunteers.

The saddest thing was we learned about the people that had died. A total of 26 people died and 13 of them came from this little town of Rainelle. One of the ones who died was bed ridden and lived alone. He drowned while lying in bed. We learned about the animals that drowned and how some people barely made it out of the water. It was very touching and very sad.

After we were done, we met up with the Mercy Chefs again at a small church. We all got together and they said a prayer for our safe return to Raleigh. We had only been there two days but we felt very connected to these people. They are an amazing organization and I am so glad our paths crossed.

The next day we drove back to North Carolina, we all reflected on what we had seen and done. We felt proud to have gone but were all sad that we were leaving. Had it not been for a few commitments, we all would have stayed longer.

When I got home, I looked around my house saw the furniture, pictures, and my dogs. I couldn’t imagine all of it being gone, with no way to ever get it back. None of the people in Rainelle had flood insurance. It was all just gone.

I am humbled by this experience and I want to send a message to all that read this, please reach out to groups like Mercy Chefs and volunteer or donate money. They do great things. We will be lifelong friends and a big fan of theirs forever.

To the people of Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., you will always be in our thoughts and prayers.

-The UNC REX Chefs from North Carolina


Leave a comment

Summertime Sunshine: Good vs. Bad

Sun Protection

Summertime is here! Now that the warm weather’s arrived, you’re probably ready to head to the beach, go to the pool and have some fun in the sun. But it’s important to prevent overexposure to harmful sunlight while also maximizing the beneficial aspects that can enhance mood, energy and sleep. Dr. Charles Eisenbeis, an oncologist with UNC REX Cancer Care, shares the pros and cons of sun exposure.

Health Benefits of Sunshine

sunblock_sunglassesWhile too much sun can be harmful to your skin, a moderate amount of sun exposure can provide numerous mental and physical health benefits. Sunlight is a good source of vitamin D, which is also known as the “sunshine vitamin.”

“In general, vitamins are compounds that are not produced in the body and need to be obtained mostly from food sources,” says Dr. Eisenbeis. “Vitamin D is different in that the body is able produce vitamin D on its own after skin is exposed to sunlight,” Dr. Eisenbeis continues.

Vitamin D enhances the absorption of other key minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc. These minerals promote healthy functions of the body including:

  • Bone health – Vitamin D regulates calcium in the body, which helps maintain and grow strong, healthy bones.
  • Sleep and mood – Vitamin D helps with the production of melatonin, a hormone that’s known for regulating the sleep cycle. Melatonin can lead to more energy during the day and better sleep at night. Melatonin also helps to decrease inflammation and improve your immune system.
  • Immune function – Vitamin D works at the level of the cellular lining of the intestines to help with the absorption of minerals when we eat food. When vitamin D is absorbed, it helps to reduce inflammation and pain.

“In the past ten years we’ve received a lot of information from research on how deficiencies of vitamins are related to higher risks of some diseases such as prostate cancer and breast cancer,” said Dr. Eisenbeis.

Health Risks of Sunlight

Sunburn and Skin Aging
The amount of exposure to the sun over a lifetime can cause damage to the skin and to the DNA, which can lead to dangerous forms of skin cancer. Sun damage can also occur within the collagen of the skin, which can lead to premature aging such as sun spots and wrinkles.

Skin Cancer
Skin cancers are linked to sun exposure and are caused by damaged DNA within the skin itself. Many skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are troublesome in terms of causing cosmetic issues for patients. People who’ve been out in the sun their entire lives tend to have many of reoccurring skin cancers that need to be treated surgically. Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are three types of skin cancer that are largely attributed to excess sun exposure (UV radiation).

Best Practices Under the Sun

Most sun damage stems from our childhood and adolescent years. The best way to avoiding sunburns and excess sun exposure in our children and teens is to encourage best practices for skin protection.

  • Pay attention to time of day and length of sun exposure – Some people may need to have a small amount of sun exposure in order to receive the health benefits of vitamin D. You can obtain enough benefits of vitamin D with about 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure, two to three times a week and between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Apply and re-apply – Dr. Eisenbeis recommends using sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 to 50 and reapplying sunscreen every two hours.
  • Cover key areas – Wearing sunglasses will help protect your eyes from harmful effects of radiation. Skin cancers tend to form behind the neck and ears. Be sure to apply sunscreen in those key areas and wear a hat to provide extra shielding from the sun.


Leave a comment