Trails & Trials: Stay fit with the family throughout the holiday season

(This post is a part of a regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas. For more posts in this series, click here: Trails and Trials.  – ALW)

By Natasha van der Merwe

We are finally at the Christmas holiday season, which we all look forward to. A time to hit the brakes on our busy lives and unwind, spend time with loved ones and of course, indulge in all our favorite holiday sweets and treats. These are all great things, but in moderation. Don’t let January 1st sneak up on you.  Finish the year strong so that you feel well rested and ready to tackle those big goals next year.

Here are a few fun ways to combine all of the above – Family, Food, Fun and Fitness.

  1. Do a Family Friendly Fun Run for a Great Cause – The upcoming ‘Communities in Schools Wonderland Run’ is a fun run on December 1st in Downtown Waco – corner Austin Avenue and 3rd Street – with distance options available for all family members: A 10k, 5k and 1 mile run or walk. Get the family together, outdoors, and active for a great program that changes lives in our community.
  1. Watch the Waco Wonderland Parade – After the Wonderland Run grab a coffee and snack and find a great spot to watch the Wonderland Parade. If you have little ones, make sure to find the petting zoo and of course, Santa will be around for pictures.
  1. Christmas Light Walk – Find out which neighborhoods in your area have the best Christmas lights and plan a walk with the family to see them all.
  1. Scavenger Hunt for the family – Head to your nearest park and plant a number of items around the park for your family and friends to find. This is a great way to get everyone active, while having fun. Make sure to reward the winner with another fun activity, like picking their favorite board game to play or movie to watch, instead of an unhealthy food treat.
  1. Create a Family Holiday Challenge – Create a goal for the whole family to do throughout the holidays. Options include, running or walking a mile every day, doing a set amount of pushups or jumping jacks together.  You can also simply make an “Activity Calendar” with different activities each day.  Don’t forget the reward board to entice the little ones.
  1. Cycle Your Way to Fitness – Get out that road or mountain bike and ride the many family friendly trails around Waco. A perfect example would be the paved trail around the Brazos River. Stop off at one of the many parks and set up a picnic as the kids play on one of the many playscapes. Then finish your day at the Cameron Park Zoo.
  1. Go Exploring on our Trails – Did you know that Waco is the host of the Off Road Triathlon National Championship Race? That means that Cameron Park is recognized for having impeccable trails to mountain bike, run and hike on. Heading out on the trails would be the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of your daily life.

There are 39 days from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, so you have plenty of time to stay active and actually improve your health over the holidays.

Enjoy the Festive Season!

Natasha van der Merwe is originally from South Africa. She is mom to a 19-month old girl, former professional tennis player and tennis instructor, and a professional triathlete representing Bicycle World and Waco Running Company.  She has multiple top 10 finishes in Ironman and 70.3 events around the world. She is Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, Texas.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.










Connecting Local Teachers to Local Businesses Pays Dividends

By Hermann Pereira

Being an educator is one of the most rewarding and difficult careers around. We constantly invest our time and effort into the next generation and the school year feels like a marathon. So by the time the summer hits we just want to prop our feet up. But educators are some of the most dedicated professionals around so we spend our summers attending professional development sessions in order to improve at our craft.

This past summer teachers at Connally ISD had the unique opportunity to participate in a teacher externship program through a grant that we were awarded through the University of Texas STEM Center. The goal of the externship was to interact directly with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industry leaders and learn about industry trends, needs, and opportunities that they can bring back to the classroom to enhance instruction and ultimately, student learning and achievement. We had 19 teachers from a variety of teaching fields who engaged with industry partners here in Waco. In this blog we will highlight 3 of our teachers and what their takeaways were from the program:

Liesel Wilson – Spanish/AVID

The recent Tex2 summer externship that I was a part of was truly an eye-opening experience!  As a classroom teacher for 25 years, I have plenty of educational experience, but not a lot of encounters with the business world.  This opportunity to spend time with various local businesses and learn first-hand how teachers could better prepare future candidates for the job world was an invaluable lesson.

I was able to visit HOLT CAT Machines and Engines, KWTX TV, Central Texas Iron Works, Vossloh, the Lacy Lakeview Police Department, and a robotics class at TSTC.  At each location, the overwhelming response to what our students were lacking was the basic knowledge of soft skills.  Applicants need to be aware of proper interview dress, use of cell phones (or lack thereof), the importance of eye contact, and a firm handshake.  This take away was something that I was easily able to implement daily both inside and outside the classroom.  Upon entering, all students must shake my hand and look me in the eye while saying “Good morning”, or “Nice to see you”.  It was important for me to first teach my classes HOW to shake hands and the implicit value of body language and eye contact.  After MUCH practice, this has become second nature to my students.  I use myself as an example of the NO cell phone policy that many workplaces enforce.  Students are not permitted to text during class time, so I also follow this rule.  Leading by example shows students that I value the rules and understand why they are in place.

All in all, the externship was a tremendous experience.  I am happy to say that the takeaways were relevant and definitely worth spending time on to ensure that students will be ready to face the world of work after graduation! 

Liesel Wilson has been in education for twenty-four years.  She currently teaches Spanish 2 and is one of the AVID elective teachers at Connally High School.  In her free time, she loves to read, trail run, and have amazing travel experiences with her children Joslyn and Savanna.

Julia Jirovsky – Debate Coach

As a communication teacher, the opportunity to speak with employers around Waco in the TEX2 externship was tremendously valuable. Speaking with Express Employment Solutions highlighted a need for students to leave high school with an understanding of professional documents such as résumés and cover letters. Specifically, students can give themselves an edge in the job market by submitting résumés that are not adapted from popular web templates. In addition, touring manufacturing operations such as Englander dZignPak and Vossloh taught me that many of the most successful employees, regardless of education level, are ones that show up on time, ask questions, and take initiative in the workplace. It was validating to learn that the skills Waco’s job market craves are ones that we teachers can reinforce every day in every content area. We can hold our students to high standards, require attendance and timeliness, knowing that these soft skills will propel our students to success after graduation.

Julia Jirovsky is a second year teacher and debate coach. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently teaches Debate, Professional Communication, and Principles of Education and Training. In her free time, Julia enjoys judging debate, crafting, and going to metal concerts.

Miranda Flanary – Business

As a business education teacher with prior work experience, it is important to take advantage of ways to refresh and renew my knowledge what is happening in today’s workplaces.  The externship offered this invaluable opportunity as I was able to gain insight at a variety of local employers, including KWTX Channel 10, DeuxSouth Creative, Caterpillar, Sherwin Williams, and the City of Waco.  These businesses each demand very different levels of education and work experience amongst their employees.  However, there was a consistent message when it came to transferable skills: these are the foundation on which any successful employee is built.  Dependability, reliability, willingness to learn, and communication skills are essential, regardless of the hard or technical skills needed for a job.  This information allows me to reference real-world expectations at real-world employers, beyond my own work experience, to drive home how students need to be prepared for the next stages in life.

Miranda Flanary is a native Wacoan and has been in education for five years, following careers in financial services and human resources.  She currently teaches Principles of Business, Marketing, and Finance; Entrepreneurship; and General Employability Skills and is the CTE department head.  In her free time, Miranda enjoys live music, traveling, trivia, and spending time reading and drawing with her 8 year old son Regan. 

Opportunities like this need to continue because the beneficiaries of these programs are the students of our community. When public educators, the business community, and higher education entities come together the possibilities are endless.

Connally would like to thank all of our partners that made this experience so meaningful. We look forward to connecting with them and others this next summer:

Hermann Pereira is the Principal of Connally Career Tech Early College High School and AVID Coordinator and has been in education for 12 years. He is a Houstonian who roots for all Houston sports teams, but has called Waco home for the past decade. He has been married to his wife Kristi for 14 and a half years and has two children, Hudson who is 10 years old and Ruby who is 7 years old.