Story by Rebecca Lewis
Photos by Mark Boehler
It is that time of the year when health and fitness become a resolution that almost half of the population makes.
Unfortunately, most of the vows fall to the wayside when people fail to get the results they want as quickly as they would like. Gym memberships, exercise equipment, diet supplements, and healthy food choices are in high demand in January, but dissipate in a matter of weeks.
Forty-eight-year-old Mark Studdard, a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and an employee at Magnolia Regional Health Center, understands the struggle that people feel as they attempt to set a lasting fitness routine. He has developed his own plan and has managed to make it a successful one.
The Registered Dietitian began running when he was working on his bachelor’s degree at Georgia Southern University. The exercise allowed him to eat foods he enjoyed and helped him relieve the stress of academic demands.
The distance runner met his wife Kristie while at GSU. They married in 1998 and moved to Arizona where he completed his master’s at Northern Arizona University while he worked as a clinical dietitian and director of food and environmental services at the local hospital.
The couple started their family in Arizona, but quickly realized they wanted their children to be closer to their grandparents in Georgia. “LinkedIn did not exist, so I began to look for job opportunities the old-fashioned way. I found a position in Corinth, applied, received an offer from the hospital, and moved my family to Corinth in 2004,” said the Corinth resident.
All of the Studdards’ children are Corinth Warriors. Their older daughter Sadie shares Mark’s passion for running and earned two state rings as a member of the school’s cross-country team before graduating and enrolling at Mississippi State. Their sixteen-year-old daughter Madison is the gifted artist in the family, and their thirteen-year-old son Tilden has joined the cross-country team this year with hopes of earning his own state ring.
Moving to Corinth did not stop the MRHC employee from continuing his own fitness regimen. Because he and his wife have always been “foodies,” enjoying cooking together and trying new foods, the father of three realized that exercise would need to be a permanent fixture in his life. “Although we try to eat healthier than the typical family, we enjoy food, so we choose fun with food more than following a strict diet. I run so I can continue to enjoy the foods I love,” the self-proclaimed foodie remarked.
The committed distance runner shared the secret to his consistent motivation. “While in Arizona, my wife and I decided to have a puppy before having children, so we adopted Fella, who was half Border Collie. That breed of dog has quite a bit of energy, so I began taking Fella with me on my morning runs. Even though dogs stop for frequent potty breaks, they maintain the same pace and never seem to get tired.”
Fella continued to motivate his master for 13 years. During that time, the dog had become a beloved pet to the entire family. Unfortunately, the father of the house lost his running buddy on New Year’s Day. The grieving family decided that Fella needed to be buried on their family farm in Georgia, so they made the trip to go bury their fur baby.
Desiring to ease his family’s heartache, the dog lover made some calls and loaded the family in the truck to go to south Georgia to pick up Zipper, a full-blooded Border Collie that was sired by an award-winning Collie.
“I had gotten in touch with Matt Cook, the dog breeder, and he not only sold us Zipper, but he also gave us advice about training him. Border Collies are known for their herding skills, so we decided to see if we could get him ready to compete.”
Training the energetic dog proved a bit more difficult than the couple thought, so they once again contacted Matt Cook who put them in touch with Alasdair McCrae, a world-renowned dog trainer and competitor. Cook also was responsible for adding another dog to the Studdard family. He had Jess, a two-year-old Border Collie that was already trained, and she quickly became Kristie’s dog.
The active leader of the family found he had double the motivation to run. “Honestly, there are days that I don’t want to get up at 6 a.m. to run, but Zip and Jess never have a day that they don’t feel like running. We help each other. I get to relieve stress, and they get to expend energy. We run at least four days a week along a 2.5-mile loop. We ramp the distance up a bit when I am preparing for a 5 or 10K run.”
Staying focused is something the dietitian encourages every runner to do. He does not wear earphones and makes sure he pays attention to traffic. “I often pass people who are obviously on their cell phones. I can see their faces glowing as they are looking down. Safety is a priority.”
Running with Zip and Jess help all three of them, but the dog owner realized there was more he could do, so he bought some acreage and once again turned to Alasdair McCrae who provided the new landowner with the beginning of his sheep herd. “We started with five sheep and now have 20. We take the dogs out to the farm several times a week to let them enjoy time outdoors, doing what they were born to do. It is fascinating to watch them drop their heads and set about rounding up the sheep.”
Although Mark and Kristie have competed with Zipper in the past and enjoyed seeing him win some novice competitions, they have put the competition side of dog ownership aside so they could fully enjoy their children’s activities. “I see us returning to competing after our children are grown. Zip and Jess may be too old by then, but we plan to stick with Border Collies in the future.”
The medical services employee desires to keep running with his furry companions so he will stay focused on his health and wellness, and he encourages dog lovers to consider doing the same thing. “Get a dog with a high energy level, and it will definitely push you to get outside and exercise with it. Having my dogs’ company on my morning run is the reason I stay committed to my fitness routine,” he admitted.
When the Georgia native reflected on his own health and fitness journey, he had words of advice to offer. “So many people don’t take care of their health. Our culture has gotten to the place where we don’t want to accept responsibility for our health issues. It is easier to believe we can go to the doctor and let them fix us, but that medication or procedure is usually a short-term fix. Exercise and diet are key to long-term good health.”
In this new year, the healthcare executive encourages people to avoid making a fleeting resolution.
“Be the person who sets achievable goals, whether it be letting your dog help motivate you to get up and get moving or whether it is making sensible adjustments to your diet. Your health is worth it,” he said.
(Retired Alcorn Central High School English teacher Rebecca Lewis is a freelance writer for the Daily Corinthian and Crossroads Magazine.)