Gracie Harris was just 14 years old when she saw her dad die of a massive heart attack. He was only 48.
That tragedy sparked a profound lifestyle change in Gracie and her mom, Christina Harris, of Oxford.
Today, Gracie and Christina are a combined 100 pounds lighter and have found the motivation and support they need to live healthier at the Don Sjogren Community YMCA.
Gracie and Christina first ventured to the YMCA in Holdrege in July 2016, six months after Gracie’s dad died. They joined the Y so
Gracie’s younger brothers, Tucker, 5, and C. Jaye, 6, could participate in YMCA youth programs. But, they found themselves enjoying walks on the indoor track while the boys played sports. Then, they tried the weights, treadmills and other cardio machines. By December 2016, the two decided it was time to go all in.
“We decided we would make a change to make a difference for ourselves,” Christina said. “We started a mom and daughter competition.”
The competition sometimes includes tempting each other with Twinkies and chicken Alfredo to test their ability to resist temptation.
“Life’s about choices,” Christina said. “If she chooses not to eat the Alfredo, she may not get heart disease, she may not gain five pounds.”
Gracie had struggled with her weight nearly her entire life and was already border-line diabetic before she even became a teenager.
With her family history of heart disease, Gracie knew that living healthier was a life-changing decision that she needed to make.
In addition to exercising at the Y three or four days a week, Gracie started a no-carb diet. Between her new eating plan and the motivation and support from her mom and the YMCA staff, Gracie started shedding the pounds.
In May 2017, Gracie mentioned to her mom that she wanted to get a job. Christina works as a travel nurse, is studying to be a paramedic and is a single mom, so she was excited about Gracie’s idea and mentioned that the YMCA was training and hiring lifeguards.
But, Gracie was hesitant about putting on a swimsuit and perfecting the skills needed to be a lifeguard. So, her mom offered to sign up for the class with her. That was the encouragement that Gracie needed. Christina swam on the Stanford University Swim Team in college, and Gracie was proud when her mom raced past most of the teenagers swimming laps in the life-guarding class.
The two are now certified lifeguards at the YMCA. Gracie works the morning shift several days a week, waking up at 3 a.m. and arriving at the YMCA by 5 a.m. for a quick workout before her 5:30 a.m. shift begins. She works until 7:30 a.m. and then drives to Southern Valley for her school day. She often travels back to the Y later for a workout with her mom and brothers.
As a trained lifeguard, Gracie learned important skills such as CPR and using an AED. She was also inspired to join her local fire department as a junior cadet when she turned 16.
Gracie has a heart of gold and gives back to the Y by volunteering at many family and youth programs at the YMCA, including the Snowflake Ball, Gingerbread Houses & Santa, the Noon Year’s Eve Party and the Silver Run.
“I try to volunteer as much as possible just to help out because I want to help others,” Gracie said.
Gracie and Christina would still like to lose another combined 50 pounds, and they are grateful that they have found a supportive group at the YMCA to help them along their journey.
“The Y has brought us just not the machines. Just not the weights. Just not the classes. It’s brought togetherness. Hope. Family,” Christina said.