Issue 406: 1 / 9 / 2012

Southwest’s Health Programs Built from Ground up with Worldly Influence

Photo by Alan Howell, MBJ

Photo by Alan Howell, MBJ

Reprinted from the Memphis Business Journal
Friday, January 6, 2012
By Cole Epley, Editorial intern

Neal Cordell leads a fitness class at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Cordell once toured with ZZ Top as the rock band’s personal trainer for three years.

Despite staff layoffs and continued educational funding cuts at the state level, Southwest Tennessee Community College has made commendable progress in its approach to establishing and maintaining a comprehensive wellness program for its employees.

The institution has catalyzed support among faculty and staff to perpetuate a growing health and fitness education initiative that includes indoor and outdoor walking trails all campuses, fitness boot camps, organized team sports, personal training and educational health seminars by local experts.

Interestingly, one of the most influential people behind the Southwest initiative also bridges the one degree of separation between the school and Texas rockers ZZ Top: associate professor of fitness and wellness education Neal Cordell.

Cordell, who transformed what was once a classroom into a fully functional strength and fitness center, toured for three years with the classic rock power trio as its fitness guru. He was introduced to the band in 1982 while it recorded its 1983 album, “Eliminator,” at Memphis’ Ardent Studios.

“We traveled all over the world on that tour and I was able to see fitness facilities across the globe when we worked out,” Cordell says. “You see how people set things up differently and you try to incorporate and implement all these things that you learn.”

Cordell, a lifelong Memphian and fitness professional, procured used fitness equipment from other schools in the Tennessee Board of Regents system to equip the Southwest fitness center.

His expertise stems from prior positions as a fitness consultant for now-defunct Memphis companies Medshares Inc. and Banking Consultants, where he also constructed fitness centers from scratch. The trick, he says, is keeping employees engaged and interested.

“Any time you have a fitness program like this, there are times when there will be many people using it and times when there are hardly any,” he says.

That’s part of the reason Cordell makes himself available to give personal training and fitness advice to employees like Karen Campbell, a secretary in the college’s career studies office.

Campbell began walking with colleagues during breaks at the Macon campus walking trails, and a commitment of just 30 minutes a day brought about immediate results, which motivated her to continue the habit.

“As things have progressed, we’ve picked up many more people and the activities have helped to keep my diet under control, keep me motivated and keep me from getting burned out,” she says.

Campbell has also noticed she sleeps better at night and her blood pressure and cholesterol levels have responded favorably. She says she’s learned invaluable information from presentations given by representatives from corporations like Walgreens and Whole Foods .

“We learned that healthy smoothies are not necessarily your enemy. You can make a smoothie with spinach and it actually tastes good,” Campbell says.

What's your routine? Southwest Tennessee Community College Employees: 700 Programs: Southwest’s year-old Healthy Lifestyle Program, which was funded in part by a $10,000 donation from United Healthcare, provides wellness education and screenings for faculty and staff. Part of the program includes educational ‘Lunch & Learn‘ sessions with representatives from various health organizations. In 2008, the school began collecting fitness equipment from other Tennessee Board of Regents schools and converted a former classroom into a fitness center. It has free weights, treadmills and other cardiovascular machines, a video projector and ample floor space for video-guided workouts like pilates and yoga. Each of Southwest’s four campuses has indoor or outdoor walking trails.