A Wellness Awakening

Written by Shlomit Ovadia of JCC Denver

During my morning run at the gym, I accidentally made eye contact with a woman using the leg machines. Instead of looking away, she smiled warmly back at me with bright eyes. Please meet Jill Katchen, 59, who, during a serendipitous encounter in the lobby later that morning, I learned is the recent winner of JCC Fitness Center’s Spring Transformation Challenge, and a friendly face adored by many in the community.  

As the current Director of Donor Engagement at JEWISHcolorado, Jill works next door to the JCC. 

A few months ago, she was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic and told by my doctors to make changes; the timing of the Spring Transformation Challenge at JCC Fitness Center could not have been more apropos. 

“I wanted to try getting that under control and didn’t want to use any drugs. I wanted to take charge of my fitness naturally,” the mother of two explains, having not lifted weights in five years.  

To jumpstart her journey, Jill hired a nutritionist and began coming to the JCC Fitness Center to work out with personal trainer Solomon Mejia a few times per week.  

“He is very knowledgeable and is challenging yet safe. He pushes me, but we still have fun,” she laughs. 

All along, Jill’s goal has been about feeling healthy and strong, to “be able to do the things I want to do, like bike rides or hiking. I don’t want to feel like my physical body limits me.” 

Between the gym and nutrition coaching, “I’m putting things in place to keep me accountable and help it become more of way of life rather than something I’m just doing for eight weeks or something that I can’t sustain.”  

Over the challenge, Jill shed 5.5 pounds of fat and gained 2.2 pounds of muscle, something she admits has been a struggle with previous attempts. 

Now, her doctors are no longer worried about her health, “because everything is going in the right direction,” she tells me. 

To have more food freedom during the process, Jill opts for intermittent fasting and avoids keeping tempting foods around the house she knows she can’t resist. However, that doesn’t stop her from enjoying the occasional bagel and lox from Moe’s with her husband and Music Director and Cantorial Soloist at Temple Emanuel, Steve Brodsky.  

“It just makes me more conscientious,” she says. A few modifications to typical dinners include swapping spaghetti squash for pasta and adding more veggies than before.  

“With this challenge, I didn’t think I’d win because that really wasn’t the goal for me. The desire to be happy and feel balanced is greater than the feeling of having to fit into a certain size or BMI.” 

We parted ways with amiable ‘thank you’s and ‘sorry for sweating’ hugs from our earlier workouts, the conversation punctured by a flood of greetings from members wanting to connect with Jill. Yet, our encounter had already got me thinking: what sustainable habits could I work on slowly implementing into my own life, in the endless journey towards wellness?