Kelly Mcgowan

Iowa State Alum Connie Sievers has been selected to train for and run the 2014 Nautica Malibu Triathlon as part of the CNN Fit Nation Team with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Sept. 17. Sievers, the health curriculum coordinator for Des Moines Public Schools, hopes her experience will inspire people to keep moving every day.

The Fit Nation team is comprised of six individuals chosen based on a video submission explaining why it is time for them to make a change to a healthy lifestyle. They receive training and education from CNN.

Sievers’ struggle with weight began 19 years ago when her daughter, Emily, was undergoing leukemia treatment. Emily passed away on Valentine’s Day 19 years ago at age six. Emotional strain led Sievers to depression and she gained 70 lbs between Emily’s relapse and her passing. Her weight has fluctuated since then with emotional stress.

A healthy individual previously, Sievers competed in year round sports in high school and intramurals at Iowa State.

Sievers decided to make a change when she watched her two sons, daughter-in-law and other friends and family compete in “Iowa’s Best Dam Triathlon” in Coralville. Her daughter-in-law, Chelsie Kohns Sievers was a part of Iowa State’s Triathlon Club and introduced the sport to the family. 

Chelsie said that triathlons are a “great, approachable sport.”

“The spirit of triathlon was just awesome,” Sievers said. She said she appreciated the supportive atmosphere and decided that day that she would run the triathlon with them the following year.

The next day, Sievers began walking on a treadmill and looked up where she could go to swim. She was embarrassed at the time by all of the “pro swimmers” around her doing laps at the Urbandale pool because she could not swim more than 10 feet without stopping to catch her breath. Sievers asked the lifeguards for tips and watched instructional swimming videos on YouTube.

She also began to ride bikes with her sister, who noticed her hard work and sent her a link to Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Fit Nation application page.

“I read through it and I said ‘why not?” Sievers said. “I’m going to do this. I need to do this. And this would be a sure way to make sure I carried it out.”

She put together and submitted an application video before she had the chance to lose her nerve and chicken out, she said.

Sievers was notified of being selected by Dr. Gupta via Skype on Dec. 12. The Fit Nation team stays connected daily in a private group on Facebook to keep each other accountable and encouraged.

Sievers said that CNN has success down to a science. Teammates are able to view each other’s progress and workouts on Garmin Connect. Workouts are sent to team members by their coach on Training Peaks, an online source. Their training program is based on heart rate zones.

“It’s to build base and fitness level, but maybe it’s also to build our confidence a little,” Sievers said.

The competition aspect of the challenge is over for the “Sassy Six” and now they share the goal of getting the entire team across the finish line, and consider themselves all to be “grand champions.” CNN allows team members to run races prior to the triathlon, but encourages them not to cross a finish line until Malibu.

“I imagine that will be pretty emotional at the finish line,” Sievers said. She hopes to inspire people with her story by being an “average Joe” and that if she can take the step towards health, so can they.

Chelsie and her husband, Ryan Sievers, plan to compete in the Malibu triathlon as well, and expect a whirlwind of emotions that day.

“Connie is so mentally tough, she’ll be able to accomplish it,” Chelsie said. “She’s going to be so proud of herself, as she should be, at the end of the day.”

Chelsie expects the race day to “change Connie’s life,” and predicts that she will get hooked on the sport.

Sievers now enjoys going to the YMCA at regular times for classes to develop an encouraging friend group there. She is encouraging family members get active, and encourages people to work out in the morning to improve their mindset for the day, and take advantage of “being on autopilot” early in the day.

“I’ve tried to plan working out after work, but my car just really wants to go home,” she said. Sievers encourages college students to start now, while they are young and fit. “Don’t wait until you’re 51,” she said.

The Fit Nation team can be followed on Facebook, twitter and on Sanjay Gupta, MD, which airs on CNN. “