American Heart Association representative gets students exuberant about exercise
By Jason Klaiber
In her 13 years as youth marketing director for the American Heart Association, Meg Corey has never tired of putting on the same outfit every day, nor has she lost her fondness for jumping rope.
Donning a red shirt, yoga pants and sneakers, she visits grades pre-K through 12 and instructs students on physical fitness and emotional wellness, all the while lending a “fun, crazy neighbor” vibe that counterbalances their usual teachers.
She also provides recipes, lesson plans and sporting equipment to the hundreds of schools in Central New York and Northern Pennsylvania that partner with the American Heart Association.
Once the students reach middle school, Corey uses an added measure of detail and statistics to teach them about caloric intake as well as mental health initiatives that touch on image concerns, anxiety and hygiene.
The high schoolers join her in games of dodgeball and basketball as they learn more about tobacco use, vaping and avoidance of anything else that contributes to sluggishness or duress upon the body and mind.
At the end of each year, the students at partnering schools take part in a celebratory event, a culmination of their time spent learning from Corey that doubles as a fundraiser by way of optional donations to the American Heart Association.
On top of stirring up enthusiasm about nutrition and exercise, the association’s youth marketing team provides support for fighting childhood obesity and encourages heart-healthy behaviors and diets.
“If you’re from a family that has heart history, we have to be even more careful about how we treat our bodies and how we take care of our heart and how we live,” Corey said. “Without a healthy body and a healthy heart, you can’t use all those brains.”
Alluding to rising obesity rates, she said current-day students need to worry about slowing or reversing the trend more so than prior generations.
“I have middle schoolers that are on cholesterol medication,” Corey said. ““If we don’t stop our behaviors, we’re gonna buckle our healthcare system.”
Long before she took on her present position at the association, Corey had volunteered there for years, dating back to the late 1970s when she was seven and her grandmother had undergone triple bypass surgery.
Corey said she wanted to give back to the nonprofit organization because the open-heart surgery was fully successful, allowing her 15 more years with her grandmother.
Her volunteer work revolved around heart disease and stroke awareness, and it had involved holding up a jar of tar for all to see and displaying a pair of lungs affected by cigarette smoking.
By the time Corey was in eighth grade, she was considered overweight. She was five feet tall and weighed 189 pounds.
Taking precautions in the face of the family’s history of heart troubles, her educator father and nurse practitioner mother recommended she take up cross country, and from there she was steered in the direction of routine workouts.
“You can be that child that’s overweight and you can figure it out,” Corey said. “I’m living proof that it can happen.”
While she admits she would not call herself completely athletic, judging by her inability to hold a dribble during a game of basketball, she still loves exercising to this day and recommends doing so whenever possible.
Amidst stay-at-home orders and Zoom calls, Corey suggested students run in place and carry baskets of folded laundry up the stairs in their households to keep the blood flowing.
To many of the students she has met over the years, Corey is affectionately known as “the heart lady,” a moniker she refers to as her favorite outside of being called “mom” by her four children.
At this point, the kindergarten classes she taught during her first year on the job have now entered college. Meanwhile, coming full circle, quite a few of the seniors in high school she encountered back in 2007 are now parents reinforcing the messages they’ve had ingrained about heart health.
Over the course of the last decade and some change, kids have excitedly run up to her to say they ate an apple or they rode their bike or they even talked their mother into quitting cigarettes.
Others, such as a fourth grader saddened by the belief that she would never again see Corey upon moving up to middle school, thought to tell her she was one of her favorite teachers. But after finding out they would see each other again, as Corey remembers and won’t soon forget, the teary-eyed young girl decided to give her the biggest hug she possibly could.