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WNY Refresh covered a lot of territory during its first year

WNY Refresh celebrates its first anniversary this month.

In the first few months on the job, I found myself explaining to many of the people I interviewed that Refresh was a Saturday Gusto-style section that focused on health, fitness, nutrition and family matters.

I’m glad to say most folks I interview these days not only tell me they are familiar with the section, but regular readers. That includes the very fit and very healthy, and the bulk of us interested in better health for a variety of reasons.

Many readers have told me they’ve cut out their favorite stories as guideposts on their journey toward better wellness. That was the idea when Mike Connelly launched the section last March as one of his first initiatives as new editor of The Buffalo News.

To those who take the weekly journey with us, thanks, and for those who joined us along the way, I wanted to bring you up to speed with some of the last year’s highlights.

Health and wellness

This topic has been the cornerstone of Refresh, because it feeds everything else and everything else feeds it. In the end, every other Refresh subject area is designed to help readers become healthier and more fulfilled.

That’s why the story we published last July about three people who stuck with their New Year’s resolutions for six months resonated with readers.

Wayne Kast swore off smoking, after dropping 60 pounds no less, celebrated his 50th birthday in August and remains smoke-free; Joe Biagiotti lost more than 80 pounds in a half year, with help from Buffalo Cardiology & Pulmonary in Williamsville; and Nancy Tetro, who for years exercised hard but ate what she wanted, changed her diet, and dropped 40 pounds. Her health coach gave her this advice: “No one has ever gotten fat eating vegetables.”

Another cover story included tips about finding a specialist amid a doctor shortage. They included making sure you have a primary care doctor or dependent practice association. There was a story that gave tips to prevent colds and flu – among them, eat and sleep right, exercise and get a flu shot – and just last week we published a story about sticking to your prescription medicine regimen, including a written strategy that should start with your doctor and pharmacist.

We also reported stories that showed health in its many forms, including pieces on beating holiday stress, finding solace during the daily bustle, and Dr. James Pilc, an OB/GYN who closed his medical practice to study, and now teach, meditation. He will share his knowledge in several spots this summer, including on meditation sails aboard the Spirit of Buffalo.

Health care reform will continue to shape the growing health system in the region, and stories coming within the next few months will include how medical groups are looking to treat patients in more holistic ways, how other health providers have begun to handle roles that once were the sole domain of doctors, and how insurance companies and wellness coordinators are devising new and various ways to keep all of us healthier in the workplace, in our neighborhoods and while we’re off having fun.


Three contributions – parenting guru John Rosemond, the Parent ’Hood, and the Kid’s Doctor – have become the weekly foundation of family coverage in Refresh.

Cover stories in this important area have included pieces on traveling with kids, how technology can help kids learn, and tips on how to make children better readers. Also, how to keep kids hungry for knowledge during the summer, teaching kids to cook healthy foods, and finding the strength to navigate motherhood.

Two University at Buffalo administrators have been key experts here: Mary McVee, director of the Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction, who’s pitched a future story idea about kids and math; and Kelly Ross Kantz Roy, director of the school’s Early Childhood Research Center, which allows graduate students and others to study the learning behaviors of children.

And we started our “In the Field” feature last March sharing the story of Darcy Thiel, a mental health counselor from West Seneca who lost her husband, Tim Colvin, to gallbladder cancer in 2010 and wrote a book about her blended family’s journey through the experience. “Bitter and Sweet: A Family’s Journey With Cancer,” is now available as an ebook.

“I talked about his bucket list … to redo the pool,” Thiel told Refresh. “I said, ‘All right, but come on, don’t you want to go to Africa or should we try to go to Australia?’ He said, ‘Nope.’ … There were probably eight or nine guys, and so we got the concrete poured out here and Tim and (son) David and I put our handprints in it. Tim was kneeling down at his handprint, and he looked up at me and he said, ‘So, if you ever want to hold my hand you can just come and put your hand here. All the guys had to walk away, They were all crying … and that’s why the book is bitter and sweet. It truly was the best five months of our life together. It was the most god-awful five months but it was the best.”

Also look for an upcoming story this spring on how you can help foster kids in Western New York.


One of the cover stories I found most fascinating to write was a piece in May on heirloom vegetables. I forked over about $50 on heirloom plants after that and grew a small garden in my girlfriend’s yard afterward. Brandywine and Blondkopfchen tomatoes, fresh herbs and Bull Nose bell peppers – first grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello – were among the choices I made.

These were the best tomatoes and peppers we’d ever eaten, and some of the neighbors were fans, too, including one who will use some of the tomato seeds we saved to grow her own heirloom plants this year. The deer in Clarence enjoyed the tomatoes, too, which is why I look to write a cover story this growing season about how to keep critters away from your garden.

Vegetarian eating, local food buying and urban farming also were among the nutrition stories covered.

We also published a “What are you Eating?” story in August that featured National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival founder Drew Cerza, who lost 40 pounds by, you guessed it, exercising more and eating fewer chicken wings. What is Buffalo coming to when even the Chicken Wing King eats better? A healthier, more interesting place. Cerza said this week he put on about 10 pounds while taking a three-month break from his new routine during festival season last fall, but is back to working out five days a week, eating better and maintaining his weight. He’d like to lose 5 more pounds and said that, like many others, he’s discovered, “It’s tougher to maintain once you’re there than to lose the weight.”

I smell a story idea there. Other upcoming nutrition stories will include a piece about what it’s like to run the region’s largest cafeteria system, healthy snacks for kids, and more about Community Supported Agriculture and one of its leading Western New York proponents, Arden Farm owner Dan Roelofs, who works his organic fields outside East Aurora and is the great-grandson of Roycroft movement founder Elbert Hubbard.


Better health through exercise also has been a key part of Refresh. Our first cover story last March was about choosing a gym, and on Jan. 4 we published an update in the wake of the announcement that LA Fitness purchased the Buffalo Athletic Club coed sites.

I was among those swept up in the sale, and wrote a series of posts on the Refresh Buffalo Blog about how I plan to approach fitness this year. As editor of this section, I feel a particular responsibility to get in better shape, and I’ve learned this month that paying for, and working out with, a personal trainer, at least for a few months, helps you work out with proper form, and better results. I’ve lost 4 pounds since the start of February and look more toned.

Still, I’m no James Wozniak, featured last May in a “What are you Eating?” piece. He was ranked 23rd in the Northeast in the International CrossFit Games and ended up finishing 16th – out of about 7,000 competitors. The 2014 contest started Thursday, and Wozniak, a former Marine, is up against 10,000 competitors in the region, he said this week. He also said he recently won the WNY Hammerhead Series.

Go-to fitness experts for the section have included Mary Anne Cappellino and Robbie Raugh, both now with the BAC for Women, and the latter of whom showed us how to get into shape for last summer.

We also looked to turn more eyes toward intriguing regional fitness options like Bridezilla boot camp, as well as Stand Up Paddle Boarding and rock climbing taking shape on the Buffalo waterfront, along with standard-bearers including cross-country skiing, kayaking, walking and running.

Look for a story next week on one of the barre studios in the region and a cover story soon on the best ways to prepare for the upcoming running season, as well as a story later this year on wilderness opportunities for women.


Twitter: @BNrefresh