Debbie Hardy was running sprints with a coworker at the rec center when her blood pressure spiked hard.

“It took awhile for me to get up off the floor,” says Hardy, an administrative coordinator in University Communications. “My blood pressure was that high.”

Hardy’s trainer wanted to send her straight to the emergency room, but after waiting awhile and monitoring her blood pressure several times, the trainer eventually allowed her to head home.

The next morning Hardy made an appointment with her cardiologist. After a battery of tests, the diagnosis was clear: she had significant coronary artery disease.

Those were scary words to hear 2 and 1/2 years ago. Coronary artery disease is a leading cause of death worldwide. But Hardy has managed a tough diagnosis through monitoring her diet and frequent exercise with support of University employee wellness programs.

This summer, for the second year in a row, Hardy ran with a contingent of nearly 100 employees from the University at the Connects Federal Credit Union Corporate 4-Miler. The run brings together employees for a post-work run through a West End office park followed by a block party with live music.

But the opportunities for having fun and exercising with employees are just one piece of it.
Hardy’s attended exercise classes, courses on stress and wellness, and also checked in with the campus nutritionist a few times.

“The best thing is to record what you’ve eaten for three days and then go to the nutritionist and show her,” Hardy says.  “She can tell you what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and make suggestions. And it’s free. If you go somewhere else you’re going to pay. So that is huge.”

Each time there’s a heart healthy program, Hardy, a 13-year employee of the University, is likely to be among the attendees.

Hardy’s experience has also inspired her to be an educator for people in her office. She started a health board in the break room and can count many times she’s given colleagues advice on what to look for and what tests to consider when evaluating their health. 

And although she holds another gym membership so she can sneak in workouts earlier than the campus rec center opens, she remains thankful for the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness and the resources it offers faculty and staff. It is, after all, where she first became acutely aware of her heart condition.

“I think people should check it out more than they do. You’ve got something that’s free. I wish I had started earlier,” Hardy says. “Then maybe I wouldn’t have the problem that I have.”