15 Simply (But Often Difficult) Courageous Goals for Charging Our Hearts

This month, I’m teaching Homer’s Odyssey for the last time in a great while.  My freshmen know the Hero Journey, the Greek hospitality code of xenia, and the value of nostos (or homecoming), and are learning life lessons about survival and courage from the adventures of Odysseus, his son Telemachus, and his partner Penelope, each of whom references “the heart inside me” many times, a way of expressing their emotions, whether joy or sadness, nostalgia or fear.  They also know the etymologies of the word “courage”–which derives from the French coeur, or “heart”–and of the word “survive”–which derives from the Latin supervivere, or “to live beyond.”

On Friday the 13th this month, I had the pleasure of attending the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon in the Grand Ballroom of The Pfister.  You may know Go Red for Women from their iconic red dress logo.  A red dress might seem a far cry from the Greek armor of an ancient epic hero fighting Laestrygonian cannibals, outwitting the fearsome Cyclops, or traversing the deadly Scylla and Charybdis, but maybe not: the red dress symbolizes the work the AHA is doing to educate women, raise awareness, and expand research into the leading killer of women in the country: heart disease.  This afternoon, thanks to the enthusiastic leadership of director Laura Bolger, the Passion Committee, Little Hats, Big Hearts, and many others, the ballroom was a sea of red, a powerful image of solidarity and coeur.

Over a delicate chicken salad with black beans and tortilla strips, then over champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries up in Blu, I learned that “more than 2 million women have learned their personal risk of developing heart disease” and “more than 900,000 women have joined the fight” against a disease that even at the beginning of this century was often dismissed as an “old man’s disease.”  I also learned how important knowing four little numbers is for preventing heart disease for women (and men): blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index.  Every woman I spoke to–whether a heart disease survivor or someone with a family member who died of heart disease or someone who was there simply to support the effort–mentioned these all-important numbers.

1 mother, 3 daughters, 1 friend. 5 women of courage.

Even the lyrics of the luncheon’s theme song, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” was reminiscent of Odysseus’s tumultuous Mediterranean Sea adventure: “Like a small boat / on the ocean / sending big waves / into motion.”  That’s exactly what Go Red for Women is: a small boat making waves.  Waves of awareness, waves of positive goal-setting, waves of funds going to research (Go Red for Women Milwaukee raised $163,000 this year!).  The keynote speaker, Sally Lou Loveman, added to the heroic tone of the luncheon when she said, “I believe in angels.  I believe in signs, especially since we’re holding this event during National Women’s Health Week.”  Loveman, a well-known former Audience Producer for Oprah and the founder of lovespeaks, brought to mind the good omens and prophecies of The Odyssey, the ones that let the characters know that the gods were on their side and that things were looking up.  Loveman added, like Athena to Odysseus and Telemachus: “You showed up.  In order to do the work we do, we have to just show up.”  Be there.  Get off your butt and do what you know you need to do.  Have courage and survive.  Platten’s lyrics affirmed this attitude (“This is my fight song / Take back my life song / Prove I’m alright song / My power’s turned on”) and Loveman reminded the hundreds of women in the room, many times, that our hearts are “the #1 tool” we use, that we need to “keep our hearts at full capacity,” that “the more we use our hearts, the more they charge.”  The calling, then, for the heroes in the room, was to listen to the “hearts inside them” and to be heroes for themselves and others–and to re-charge their hearts and their lives every day.


I leave you, then, with 15 Simply (But Often Difficult) Courageous Goals for Charging Our Hearts, created by the guests at the recent Go Red for Women luncheon at the beautiful Pfister Hotel:

  1. I will make regular appointments with my physician.
  2. I will now the red flags and recognize them.
  3. I will know my exact numbers, so I can measure them and either maintain them or notice changes.
  4. I will schedule another stress test to monitor my levels.
  5. I will catch myself when I get stressed and find remedies.
  6. I will heighten awareness, one person or one small group at a time.
  7. I will lose more weight.
  8. I will instill in the rest of my family, including my husband and son, a mindset of healthy eating.
  9. I will make sure to cook the right food for me and my family.
  10. I will keep walking 35 minutes a day and 1 ½ hours on the weekend (the added benefit is I’ve gotten through six books already!).
  11. I will stay healthy and stay prepared because I know my family’s history.
  12. I will realize that heart disease can develop even at a young age.
  13. I will enjoy the little things, the ones I don’t always think about, the simple, happy moments.
  14. I will try to remember that I have a family that wants to have me around.
  15. I will be proactive rather than reactive!

#10 is brought to you by Lori Craig, a board member of the American Heart Association and a member of the Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Team.  Here she is fulfilling her goal for the day with a brisk walk down the hall!

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The Post In Which I Go To A Ladies Luncheon and Find This One Guy

There was a ladies-only luncheon happening at the Pfister last week. Lots of smart, sickness successful, gorgeous women were dressed in red and came together for the American Heart Association’s 2015 Milwaukee Go Red for Women luncheon.

And this guy.

Mike Bartell, <a href=
here "this guy", and Linda Haag at the 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon.” width=”378″ height=”213″ data-wp-pid=”10231″ /> Mike Bartell, “this guy”, and Linda Haag at the 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon.

I don’t mean to treat this guy like some common piece of meat. His name is Mike Bartell, and he is a world-class swell. I also feel that the scarf he had wrapped around his neck brings out all the highlights in his lovely dimples. Don’t you agree?

I love events that celebrate female achievement because it has become increasingly clear to me over the years that if men just let women run things, we would all be a whole lot better off. Plus, the world would generally smell better. That’s a win-win aspiration for us all.

The event was good natured in every way and tied into a nationwide network of Go Red for Women’s efforts. There was a lot of feel good mojo in the room, and not just from the heart healthy lunch options being served. The ladies in red came together to share stories, network and report on new steps being taken towards ending heart disease and stroke by following a smart path towards maintaining good health.

All that said, I was happy to see that there was still a chocolate dessert on the table. Way to go, ladies.

Now, back to the minority report, on this guy, Mike.

Mike Bartell is one of those guys who easily draws your eye in a room full of other guys. He’s sharp, gregarious, approachable and warm. In a room full of women, Mike is probably the first thing you notice. I know I did.

Before Mike could start another of the many conversations I saw him begin with numerous ladies in the room, I stopped him in his tracks and said, “What in the world are you doing in this room full of stunning and successful women?”

Mike gave me a big smile, one of those grins that seem to just wrap around you and give you a squeeze. “I told them they needed some men in the room. I’m the guy.”

Mike explained to me that his long time friend and business associate Lori Criag is head of the Executive Leadership team organizing the local Go Red for Women chapter. Lori had told Mike about the good work that the Milwaukee chapter of the women’s group was doing, and Mike, wearing his “I want to help!” hat, told her that it would be good to get men in the room for moral and financial support. Little did he know that there is a complimentary men’s support group that works in tandem with Go Red for Women’s groups around the country, but that the Milwaukee chapter has yet to be formally organized. Mike was already hooked into Go Red for Women, however, so good sport that he is, he willingly joined in for the luncheon and the flouncy scarf wearing.

Admittedly, it wasn’t too tough of a gig for Mike going to a luncheon with a stellar group of ladies working on ending heart disease and stroke. He also proudly told me of the good work his wife, Ellen Bartell, is doing to support health and heart awareness as President of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. Along with Angie Hutchinson, Divine Savior Holy Angels’ Physical Education Chair, Ellen was able to make hands only CPR part of the curriculum for all their students. Mike beamed when he spoke of his wife. Not only is this guy a supporter of good causes, be he’s a true gentlemen if there ever was one.

I took note of Mike’s bright red tie, and he admitted to me that he had it in his collection prior to the event. He certainly looked like he fit in with the crimson crew of ladies. Mike really did a great job wearing his heart on his sleeve at this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon, even if he sometimes had to move his pretty scarf aside to show it off.


The steady pacing is a ruse.  They navigated easily through an obstacle course of more than a dozen cardboard boxes outside the Imperial Ballroom.  I’ve orchestrated large events and will confess that set-up never runs this smoothly without precision planning. I was, doctor most certainly, observing a pro team of volunteers.  The women floated amid the boxes like a quiet force before a storm.

Well, maybe not quiet.

“If we put the paperwork in first, the bags will stay open.”

“Only one perfume in each bag, not one of each perfume in each bag.”

“Watch out for the insecticide.”

Pfister Narrator "chatter"They fall into a rhythm, a walking assembly line to pull items from open boxes, place  sponsor swag into cloth totes, and move each large bag to an expanding sea of black canvas.

“How’s Amanda?”

“Did you enjoy the Chicago trip?”

“Your daughter is done with law school already?”

The next day’s luncheon is Go Red for Women, Milwaukee’s celebration in the American Heart Association’s national campaign to galvanize communities toward raising awareness –and action—about heart disease.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.  Compared to breast cancer’s loss rate of 1 in 30, 1 in 3 American women die from heart disease daily.  This equates to someone’s wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt or best friend dying from cardiovascular disease every single minute of every single day.

“What do you think about this: we could invite this pathologist I met to give a talk about the kind of testing women should get.”

“Remember that chef? I looked at her website. She gives a Heart Healthy cooking class at Aurora.  We should call her.”

“I really liked that last event.  It was educational without feeling like we were back in school.”

The women laugh.  They have grown to a team of six or eight now. They continue tossing ideas into the air.  They continue asking about one another’s lives. They continue assembling tote bags.

“How many?”

“About 300.  More volunteers are on the way.”

“I volunteered my first year, then I joined right away.”

“Yep, that’s how we rope you in.”

The women laugh again.  This is the Circle of Red Society, women who support the Go Red for Women campaign with dollars and deeds.

“We’re the passion arm of Go Red,” says Pat, the incoming chair for Milwaukee’s Circle of Red.  “This is our big annual event, but we stay active every month of the year. We try and talk to everyone about talking to everyone about heart disease.”

The outgoing chair, Lisa, doesn’t stop moving and filling bags and says, “People still are not aware.  Women still don’t know signs and symptoms.”

As I continue to chat with Pat, the machine of women offer more comments while they continue to pack and move their gift bags.

“A lot of people still think breast cancer is our number one killer.”

“It’s still considered an ‘old man’s disease,’ but women’s symptoms are just different sometimes.”

“They don’t think heart attacks can happen to a woman in her 30s.”

“I’ve had a heart murmur since I was a kid.”

“My sister passed away from heart disease. My mother did too.”

“They think you have to be overweight.”

“I knew a woman who was only 51, did yoga four times a week and, when she started having a stroke, assumed it was something else.  A friend convinced her to go to urgent care. Saved her life that day.”

Most of the Circle’s women have personal stories, Pat tells me, but all of them are inspired ambassadors.  I asked what they would tell every woman (and the people of love them) if they could and the group agreed:

“Learn the symptoms.  Do not ignore your body.  Go to the doctor for regular exams and screenings.”

Even without a snazzy tote bag, these women know that Life is our most precious gift of all.


Watch this clever video starring Emmy-nominated actress Elizabeth Banks: