UNC Health Talk

Endurance and Outreach in Hillsborough

Two years ago, Monica Oliver, an Administrative Specialist in Radiology at UNC Hospitals, wasn’t feeling healthy, so she committed to being more active.

“My first time running was terrible.”

“My first time running was terrible,” she remembers. “I had never been an athlete and I was on the American Tobacco Trail with my husband, Dominique, who had run track and played football and basketball throughout his life. I ran for a quarter-mile and was completely out of breath. It was sad.”

Despite the challenges of being a beginner, she didn’t give up, and Dominique, a Child Protective Services Social Worker in Durham, was her biggest supporter.

“He just kept pushing me,” she says. “We ran a quarter-mile longer the next time we went out and added another quarter-mile the time after that. A week after our first run I was up to a mile.”

Monica was encouraged by her quick progress and decided to train for her first 5K, Color Me Rad, held in Raleigh. To help with her training, she became running partners with friend and coworker Evy Soto, an Administrative Associate at the N.C. Cancer Hospital. Monica completed the 5K, and then began a string of running races of similar distances.

“Running and being active became a big part of my life from that point forward.”

“Running and being active became a big part of my life from that point forward,” she says.

So big, in fact, that she began volunteering for Girls on the Run Triangle, an organization that uses running to help teach girls how to set and attain goals, develop self-motivation, and learn interpersonal and teamwork skills. In October 2014, Monica served as a Girls on the Run volunteer during Ramblin’ Rose Chapel Hill, part of a series of women’s triathlons held in communities throughout North Carolina.

“It was my first time being around a triathlon,” she says. “I gave out medals to ladies of all ages and sizes who crossed the finish line. It was so inspiring.”

During the event, she struck up a conversation with a volunteer from Tri It For Life, a nonprofit organization that empowers women to train for triathlons. She requested more information about the group, liked what she learned, and decided she would sign up for a triathlon, with training from Tri It For Life. Training began in January 2015. Two days a week she biked, two days a week she swam.

For Monica, getting on the bike was the biggest challenge of the triathlon. She had never ridden anything but a mountain bike. Family and friends showed up to support her during the race.

“I had never been on anything but a mountain bike and had never swum competitively,” she says. “The experience was grueling, but I completed the race.”

This month, Monica’s effort was featured on the cover of Endurance Magazine, a recognition she never could have imagined when she set out for her first run on the American Tobacco Trail two years earlier. She calls the experience of completing the triathlon one of the most difficult – but one of the best – of her life, and plans on participating in longer triathlons in the future.Monica Oliver on the cover of this month's Endurance Magazine.

Since changing her life physically, she has also taken on new challenges professionally. Last June, Monica began a new position as an Administrative Coordinator at UNC Hospitals’ Hillsborough Hospital. In her former role at the main hospital in Chapel Hill, she was responsible for administration within a single department: Radiology. Her new role is much larger.

“In Hillsborough, I’m handling budgeting for all nursing units,” she says. “It’s incredibly busy but I am learning so much.”

Monica is not only focused on her administrative responsibilities. Since arriving in Hillsborough, she has found ways to make the new hospital part of the community.

“Outreach is something I’ve always been passionate about.”

“Outreach is something I’ve always been passionate about,” she says. “Being a part of the Hillsborough Hospital has given me an opportunity to combine my interests in outreach with the hospital’s unique relationship with the community.”

To that end, Monica has served as the hospital’s lead for the Hillsborough Holiday Home Tour with the Chamber of Commerce and participated in efforts such as Adopt-A-Family, Triangle Heart Walk, and Stuff the Bus, which benefits Orange County students. Another planned outreach effort is to offer community cooking classes for lower-income families in the Hillsborough area who want to eat healthier. These classes will be held at the new hospital. And Monica is spearheading a new Girls on the Run chapter for Hillsborough middle-schoolers. The registration deadline is Feb. 1.

“We want to help girls build self-esteem during this crucial age,” she says, “while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. I wish I had had something like Girls on the Run when I was growing up. It might have gotten me running earlier.”

Monica credits Jeff Strickler, Associate Vice President of the new hospital, for supporting her interest in community outreach. She recalls when Strickler saw her preparing to go to her Girls on the Run class at UNC Wellness Center at Northwest Cary, where she was a coach.

“He asked where I was heading,” she remembers. “When I told him, he was genuinely interested in learning more about it, and when he did learn more about it he thought it would be great if we brought something like that to the hospital in Hillsborough. He’s been a true teacher. He knows that outreach is a passion of mine. He has let me become involved in anything and really get my hands dirty.”

Strickler is grateful to have a staff at the hospital that understands the organization’s desire to serve the Hillsborough community beyond providing patient care.

“Monica demonstrates one of our key responsibilities as an organization: our commitment to integrating with the local community and being recognized as a place of wellness versus a place of illness,” says Strickler. “We’re happy to work with community partners such as the Orange County Health Department to identify community participants in our various community offerings. We’re especially proud to be working with Girls on the Run. Such a program is important to building healthy, confident citizens for the future of Hillsborough.”

For any Hillsborough families with middle-schoolers interested in joining this new Girls on the Run Hillsborough chapter, please contact Monica Oliver at .

by Zach Read – zachary.read@unchealth.unc.edu