When Netta Rucker attended the American Heart Association’s 2005 100 Women in Red luncheon to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke among African-American women, she didn’t know that the event would be her wake-up call to get in shape and start thinking heart-healthy.
“At the luncheon that year a lot of women came up and gave their testimonies, and it was all focused on African-American women of all shapes and backgrounds,” Rucker recalls. “There was something in that luncheon that I felt they were speaking personally to me.”
After the luncheon Rucker, who is in her 30s, began thinking about her own family history. Her father died unexpectedly of heart disease in 1995 at the age of 54, as had her paternal grandmother and great-grandmother. On her mother’s side, there is a history of diabetes and stroke.
“Sitting there listening to all those different women tell their stories, I really thought now is the time to make some personal changes in my life,” she says. “So I joined a fitness facility near my home. I’ve always been one to focus on eating and not exercise, or focus on exercise and not eating. What’s different this time is I focused on both eating and exercise.”
Today, she has lost 80 pounds and continues to exercise regularly. “I’m at a maintenance point now, but the work never ends,” she says. “It’s a lifestyle change. There are certain habits I’ve developed that are permanent. I tried not to focus on the pounds. I tried to focus on exercising, being healthy and not giving up.”
Rucker is now more proactive in her health. “I’m far more informed,” she says. “I feel more prepared than I had before. I usually go to the doctor with a list of questions or articles I’ve read.”
A year later Rucker was one of the women on stage at the AHA luncheon, sharing her story with the audience. “I did it for me,” she says. “I didn’t do it to fit into a wedding dress or for a reunion or function that was coming up.”
Rucker says she hopes her story inspires other women to pay attention to their hearts. “I never thought I’d have a story that would inspire someone else,” she says. “If I’ve done nothing but help one person, I feel it’s all been worth it.”