FEELING UP TO a challenge?

One that has nothing to do with snow?

The second annual Frederick Wellness Challenge kicks off in April. By joining this 10-week event you could not only become physically healthier, but a little wealthier.

Brandi Rashidian, of Creative Wellness Frederick, is the organizer. Last year, 60 people signed up for the challenge. Most were women and ranged in age from 20 to 60.

Competitors improved their health by an average of 22 percent, she said. The winner of the challenge improved his health 44 percent, which earned him the grand prize of $5,000.

Each competitor gets a two-part wellness assessment that focuses on the physical, biochemical and psychological aspects of health. The physical assessment looks at weight, body fat, blood pressure, lung capacity and strength.

“We also test how they adapt to or handle stress using heart rate variability,” said Dr. Amir Rashidian of Mid Atlantic Clinic of Chiropractic on North Market Street, Brandi’s husband and a sponsor of the Frederick Wellness Challenge.

Participants will receive a report on how well they are functioning and a scale rating of their wellness for their age.

“It’s a lifestyle program. We encourage them to make healthy lifestyle changes because that’s the only thing that is sustainable,” said Brandi. At the end of the challenge, participants are reassessed.

Based in part on participant response from last year’s challenge, Brandi has made some changes for the 2010 challenge.

It runs for 10 weeks, instead of 12, and participants will have a “face-off” challenge every Saturday, led by recreation resources in the area including the Frederick Keys, the U.S. Marine Corps and fitness centers. The Saturday events will also include a health topic talk.

Two training sessions per week will be held, mostly in Baker Park, and led by a personal trainer with a program designed specifically for the challenge. More training in less time should yield greater results.

Participants will be grouped into teams, but will train as one group this year. And each will receive an online three-meal, three-snacks daily meal menu.

“The most popular event is the Amazing Race in Baker Park,” Brandi said. During last year’s challenge teams had to visit seven locations. In order to get clues to the next location they had to do a physical challenge.

At the end of the 10 weeks, the top three men and top three women will win cash prizes ranging from $1,200 to $300.

“So many of our competitors came in thinking they couldn’t do anything, but by the end they were running 5Ks and climbing rock walls,” Brandi said. “It gives them a can-do attitude.”

Brandi’s goal is to grow the Frederick Wellness Challenge to take place several times a year. “Several cities have done something like this,” she said.

The Rashidians hope to meet with the city’s new administration to encourage them to promote the city’s recreational opportunities, as well as promote health and wellness for its residents.

The couple were inspired to start the Wellness Challenge when they read an article about the top 10 healthiest cities in the U.S. Frederick wasn’t on the list, but they thought it could become “the wellness capital of America and set the example for other cities.”

There is a fee to participate and you must register by March 22. For information, visit www.frederickwellnesschallenge.com. The challenge begins April 17 and runs through June 26.

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Frederick County will present “In Our Own Voice,” a special training program that shares insight into personal experiences with mental illness and recovery. The program is from 7 to 9 p.m. March 9, at the Way Station, 230 W. Patrick St., Frederick.

Speakers will describe different phases of their mental illness, including the dark days of their illness, their personal journey, acceptance of the illness and treatment and coping skills that work for them.

The program is fsree and refreshments will be served. For information, call NAMI at 240-379-6186.

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Towson University nursing students and the Department of Aging will be giving free blood pressure screenings from 9 a.m. to noon in select Frederick County locations.

On Wednesday, April 8 and May 5, at the Frederick Senior Center, 1440 Taney Ave., Frederick; March 10 and April 28 at the Thurmont Senior Center, 806 E. Main St., Thurmont; and March 24 and April 21 at the Urbana Senior Center, 9020 Amelung St., Frederick. For information, call 301-600-1605.

Susan Guynn is a feature reporter who also writes a country music blog at fredericknewspost.com/threechords, and an outdoor column, Outdoorswomen, that runs the fifth Sunday of the month in the Travel & Outdoors section. Contact her at sguynn@newspost.com.

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