Nursing professor uses UAH programs to become an IRONMAN 70.3


Dr. Pam O'Neal and her "health trainer" Dr. Louise O'Keefe have teamed up to encourage UAH employees to get moving and take advantage of the many free health and wellness opportunities on campus.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Pam O'Neal will be the first to tell you "mentally" she is not where she should be when it comes to being an endurance athlete. "I am learning to enjoy all the long miles…the swimming is not too bad, and I love the biking. The running is a challenge for me, but I am continuing to improve," said Dr. Pam O'Neal, Associate Professor in The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Nursing.

O'Neal's end goal is to be a complete endurance athlete—the road getting there is hard work and calls for not only a mental transformation, but a physical one as well. "In the triathlon world – you are typically stronger in one sport than the other two."

Because of previous injuries from running, O'Neal had to determine the best sport for performance, health and safety. During her time of contemplation, she cross trained and began to attend spinning classes at UAH. "I loved to spin. You can spin at your own pace because the sport is individualized. Someone gave me a free bike…this was an old metal kid’s bike, but it was great as my first bike. Later, I purchased a carbon fiber Trek road bike, and now I am shopping around to purchase a tri-bike. I am thankful biking is my strongest sport because you are on a bike a very long time when cycling 100 plus miles."

O'Neal received immeasurable help from Dr. Louise O’Keefe, Assistant Professor of Nursing and Director of the UAH Faculty/Staff Clinic, and Amber McPhail, Nurse Practitioner in the clinic. In addition to the Faculty/Staff Clinic, the university offers numerous no or low cost programs, health coaching, screenings, product offers, wellness classes and plans for improving employee health. "I needed to be in optimal physical health to be able to perform endurance level events. I am very pleased with the many services UAH offers to all employees. I have used the services of the clinic since it opened. I was able to have more flexibility in scheduling appointments for seasonal allergies or an annual physical. The clinic closely managed my asthma diagnosis, and monitored my cholesterol as I have a family history of high cholesterol requiring medication." With the help of the UAH clinic, O'Neal was able to avoid taking cholesterol lowering drugs for a long time, but her levels began to slowly climb despite increasing her activity. "I do believe the diet coupled with the endurance training has made a significant impact on my cholesterol blood levels."

"Our goal at the UAH Faculty/Staff Clinic is to encourage and support our patients in living as healthy as possible. Both Amber and I strongly believe in making healthy lifestyle choices. We encourage employees to come to the clinic and talk to us if they need help in making these choices. Pam is an excellent example of someone who is committed in making positive changes in her life. UAH has a number of opportunities to help all of us live healthy lives. The clinic is just one example. We have an excellent fitness center, participation in the Just Move It campaign, the greenway that makes it easy for us to be active on campus and more recently the Charger Fit wellness initiative," said Dr. Louise C. O'Keefe.

To fine-tune her exercise regiments and gain strength, O'Neal also uses the services of a personal trainer. "My strength and conditioning trainer at the UAH Fitness Center (UFC) is Ann Tilly. I have worked with her for about five years. Ann has helped me gain muscle, improve my upper body strength, and develop core strength."

On light weeks, O'Neal and her husband, Allen, spend about 11 hours a week in training, and on heavier weeks they spend a little under 20 hours a week training. During triathlon season, the O'Neal's take long bike rides on Saturday, and on Sunday they run more than 14 miles to train for a full-marathon.

Realizing that low-fat, low-cholesterol diets didn't provide the right kind of fuel for an endurance athlete, O'Neal took the advice of Dr. Marsha Adams, Professor and Dean of the UAH College of Nursing, and Amber McPhail, and adopted The Whole 30 Program or clean eating. "This is not a diet but a lifestyle of clean, healthy eating. We removed sugar, dairy, grains, and alcohol for 30 days. This was tough," O'Neal said. "We continued this new lifestyle because after the initial two weeks of craving sweets, our bodies adjusted and we felt better. We eat a lot of dates and potatoes to provide us energy on our long workouts. We add electrolytes in our water when we are exercising to stay hydrated and refueled."

O'Neal has completed 11 endurance events this year and has a goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states, she can now cross several states off her list. "We kicked the year off by running in Florida in January. The half-marathon season finished by running in Rhode Island, Maine, and Indiana this fall. We completed four long bike rides and two Olympic triathlons. The big event was training for a half-ironman. It was amazing to cross the finish line together just like we did in all our training events."

Her advice for those considering endurance training is to just move. "Take the stairs, park at the end of the parking lot, and walk around the beautiful UAH campus on your lunch break. I would encourage others to look at some of the activities offered at the UFC. Go on a tour of the facilities, show up for group classes, or exercise by yourself. There is an indoor track on days it's too cold to walk outside," she added.

2 Be A Better Me was O'Neal's mantra as she toiled through her physical metamorphosis to attain endurance level fitness. She encourages all university employees to take advantage of the many opportunities at UAH to become more fit and healthy.


Dr. Pamela O'Neal

Dr. Louise O'Keefe


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