Wellness Spot Award

Wellness journeys

Each quarter, Grinnell Mutual recognizes one individual for their outstanding commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle. Read their stories.

Nate LahnerAngie Ceaser LeighAnn RuoppKami HolmesMichelle CooperDarren Wheeler

Nate's Story

Wellness Spot Award winner Nate Lahner, a farm casualty underwriter, shares how he worked with others to make healthier choices and lose over 60 pounds.

Nate Lahner

In January 2018 I started the new year at 345 pounds, which was the heaviest I’d ever been. After years of living with little concern for my health, I decided to see a primary care physician, who told me I was prediabetic, and that my blood pressure was on the upswing, close to hypertension. That’s when I began to keep my health front of mind.

Knowing I was not always self-motivated regarding my health, I decided to join a weight-loss challenge through HealthyWage. I challenged myself to lose about 60 pounds in nine months.

I also started taking the Live Healthy Iowa (LHI) Challenge seriously. My LHI teammates and I made it our mission to not only win the company in weight loss, but to also try to win at the state level. We did win in the company, but did not quite win the state, though we placed a respectable third.

This experience was important because it helped me establish a routine and gain a workout buddy. Long after the challenge, I continue to hold myself accountable for my health by using the amazing resources Grinnell Mutual offers. My workout buddy and I combine our paid fitness time with lunchtime to work out in the Larry Jansen Wellness Center, I started taking advantage of the free salads, and I use my breaks to be active, playing table tennis and basketball with coworkers.

I also started the weight loss program at the Health Matters Clinic and have an appointment there once a month. At home, I volunteered to coach my children in their activities, my family joined the YMCA, and I competed in track and field at the 2018 Iowa Games.

By November 2018, I had successfully lost 65 pounds, meeting my nine-month weight loss goal.

I want to thank Grinnell Mutual and the wellness program for being such strong advocates for employees’ health and well-being. I also need to thank Darren Wheeler for working out with me over lunch, and for our friendly fitness-goal competition.

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Angie's Story

Wellness Spot Award winner Angie Ceaser, a service desk analyst, shares how she changed her lifestyle to feel better than ever.

Angie CeaserIn March 2017, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. I had never taken any medicine due to health issues before, and to me, my health was still not an issue. I continued to eat unhealthily and not care about my well-being.

In May, I was talking to my 4-year-old granddaughter when she said some very eye-opening things to me about losing her other grandma. That was my turn-around point.

In September, I really started to pay attention to the food I was eating and the amount of activity that I was getting. When the “Maintain Don't Gain” event started, which challenges participants to not gain weight during the holiday season, I was determined to not only maintain, but to lose weight.

For that challenge I lost almost 14 pounds. Shortly after, I decided to eat completely Keto (a low-carb eating program). I now keep my carb intake under 20 grams daily. Since September 2017, I am down a total of 108 pounds. In addition, I have been smoke-free for three years, and I honestly think I feel better now than I did in my 20s.

Make the change for yourself now, because tomorrow is never a guarantee. Get up and move! It could save your life.

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LeighAnn's Story

Wellness Spot Award winner LeighAnn Ruopp, an assistant personal underwriter, shares how she achieved her most unimaginable goals.

LeighAnn RuoppMy wellness journey started at a very young age. I’d spent most of my life obese or morbidly obese. In July 2010, at 320 pounds, I took control and made the life-altering decision to have weight loss surgery.

Over the year-and-a-half that followed, I worked hard, lost a significant amount of weight, and got to my goal weight. Shortly after I settled into my new healthy lifestyle, life took me in a new direction — leading me to my husband.

Our first son was born in November 2014. We welcomed our second son in November 2016. Before I knew it, I was the mother of a 2-year-old, and a 3-month-old and was back up to about 100 pounds of excess weight.

In February 2017, I decided it was time to act. I started to count calories and track my weight. While this worked, it wasn’t enough, and I knew it. I had no idea how I could possibly find the time to work out along with all my other responsibilities.

I was blessed to be offered a position with Grinnell Mutual in March 2017. My first day here marked the day I started to reclaim my life.

I remember my trainer showing me around the facilities — specifically, the fitness center. She explained that you could use “fitness time” to work out, and that there were even fitness classes you could take during the work day.

I began to tear up because I knew I could do it. I could get healthy again for myself and my family. I never wanted to be the mom that just sat on the side and watched her kids playing, knowing I couldn’t keep up and I was determined to not let that be my fate.

I started working out immediately, consistently attending classes four days a week and walking the pond or the halls on my morning and afternoon breaks.

Instead of counting calories, I adopted a balanced lifestyle. I focus on making healthy food choices every meal.

Almost a year-and-a-half after starting at Grinnell Mutual, I am back to my goal weight, and I am in the best health of my life. I can honestly say that I never thought I would be here.

I had lost hope of wearing the clothes I had saved for years, thinking “someday” I might fit into them. But my “someday” did happen, and it all began at Grinnell Mutual.

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Kami's Story

Wellness Spot Award winner Kami Holmes, senior counsel, shares how she lost 60 pounds in seven months.

Kami Holmes

My struggle with weight issues, like so many others, began in my youth. I developed anorexia as a teen and was hospitalized twice for this condition. When I started my recovery, I weighed close to 100 pounds

In college, I gained much more than the freshman 15.  I gradually put back on the weight I had lost when I was anorexic. By the end of college, I weighed about 220 pounds and was fairly unhappy. 

Over the next few years, I continued with spurts of losing and gaining weight. I also received a life-changing medical diagnosis. I felt lost for a while, but the one thing I still had control over was my weight. I lost close to 50 pounds by eating frozen meals, without exercising — I didn’t feel I needed to work out to be healthy.

Sure enough, the weight crept back on. I was back up to 180 pounds when I got pregnant with my first child. I ended up gaining 64 pounds during my pregnancy, yet my daughter only weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces. After she was born, I lost some of the baby weight, but I couldn’t get below 200 pounds.

Four years later, I became pregnant with my second child. I had yo-yo dieted in the years in between and would lose 20 pounds, and then gain it back plus more. I was up to 218 pounds when I became pregnant. This time I gained 26 pounds during my pregnancy, and lost all the new baby weight, plus some. But then I started gaining it back again.

By May of 2018, over two years later, I knew something had to change. I felt it. I was drinking between 130-175 ounces of diet soda a day and was always tired. I did not have energy when I got home from work to play with my girls. My husband was the one who would take them outside to play, swim, or sled while I watched from the sidelines. This was not the life I wanted, and it was time to change. 

I hired a personal trainer and started being more aware of what I was putting into my body. My goal was to lose 60 pounds, which would put me at a normal BMI. I’m proud to say I accomplished that goal in just seven months. By month nine I had lost 65 pounds, 45.75 inches, and gained two cute exercise partners — my girls — in the process.

A healthy body and mind need healthy foods and exercise, so that’s what I focused on. I ate less processed food and more natural food. I didn’t “diet,” because dieting only works for the time you are dieting. If you truly want to change, you must change the way you act and be committed to a lifestyle change.  And if you want to maintain it, you must live it every day, not just some of the time. 

If it wasn’t for Grinnell Mutual’s wellness program, I would have never been able to accomplish what I have. I will be forever grateful. We are all busy, and it helps so much when you have access to healthy foods (most for free!) and a gym during work hours. I am proud to work for a company that truly values their employees’ well-being.


Michelle's Story

Wellness Spot Award winner Michelle Cooper, farm casualty underwriter, and the turning points of her wellness journey that helped save her life.

Face photo of Michelle Cooper

I have been heavy for 99 percent of my life. I had gone on diets, exercised, and tried many things to lose weight and be healthy.

And I have always been an active and outdoorsy person, but because of my weight, it was becoming a struggle to get down on the floor to play with my kids, fit into amusement park seats, and get into a boat or innertube . As an advanced EMT, I struggled to jump in and out of the ambulance and to help the people that looked to me for assistance. I had reached 309 pounds.

On Dec. 12, 2016, I started working at Grinnell Mutual. My life changed forever in so many ways. I began so many amazing relationships and started to realize that I didn’t need to continue to live the way I had for so many years.

Just a few months after I started here, my mom got sick and was hospitalized with atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. The nurses and doctors would talk about how my parents needed to lose weight and start exercising. I knew their advice applied to me too…or I’d end up in that same hospital bed in a few years.

I made an appointment with Stef Noun, a physician’s assistant at Grinnell Mutual’s on-site health clinic. What a blessing it was (and is!) to have a partnership with Surgical Associates of Grinnell for our clinic.

Stef was the first one to tell me I was morbidly obese — but she was also the first one to tell me that there was hope for me.

She also suggested I look at getting a gastric sleeve procedure. Naturally I was skeptical and thought “pffftt, I can do this on my own. I don’t need a surgery to help.” Well, if that was the case, why hadn’t I done it over the last 25 years? After several conversations with Stef, my husband, and a few close friends, I decided to go ahead and get the sleeve procedure done.

January 3, 2018, was the first day of the rest and best of my life. After essentially having to relearn how to drink and eat, I was well on my way to losing the weight. I started to walk outside and in the halls and eventually joined an exercise class offered daily at Grinnell Mutual’s fitness center

Nearly a year later I am still going almost every day.

Now, down 122 pounds, I am stronger, both physically and mentally, than I ever thought possible. I am also a much better role model for my three kids and that means the world to me. They see me being more active and making healthier choices, which will hopefully help end the obesity cycle in my family.

Grinnell Mutual helped save my life with its amazing benefits: The Health Matters clinic, the fitness center, the free fruit and salads — all these things have contributed to my success and I will be forever grateful. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work than Grinnell Mutual!

Darren's Story

Wellness Spot Award winner Darren Wheeler, personal underwriter, shares how he choses to live a healthy lifestyle, day by day.

Face photo of Darren Wheeler

I’d gotten pretty good at dropping a few pounds by dieting and exercising for a few weeks, then skipping a few meals, all while accepting that the weight I lost would eventually creep back on. But at 32, and soon to be a father of two, I decided that I needed to find a way to start a healthy lifestyle.

My lifestyle transformation began in January 2018, when I participated in the Live Healthy Iowa challenge. At this point, I tipped the scales at 242.8 pounds, which was the heaviest I’ve ever been.

Loving a good competition, my team aimed to be the number one team in the state for weight loss. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. I had to cut down on the sugar and increase my physical activity. I committed to working out during lunch four days a week, use the extra hour of fitness time to add two days a week of weight lifting. During the 10-week challenge, I lost a total of 32 pounds, and our team placed third in the state for weight loss.

I’d be lying if I said that my new lifestyle was easy. It was a work in progress and I had my share of “bad weekends.” But the structure for change was in place, and I pushed myself to keep participating in as many activities as I could. From the ping-pong tournament, to walking laps around the pond, to the free-throw competition, to my Grinnell Mutual golf league, to playing pickleball during break, I was not only feeling the change in my energy level but seeing how my life could include these changes into the future. 

In 2019, I knew it was time to step it up a notch to reach my weight loss goal. During this year’s Live Healthy Iowa Challenge, I started working out five days a week, choosing food with high nutritional value, and even standing at my desk. In all, I lost another 23 pounds, bringing me to my goal weight of 198 pounds.

I’d love to say I’ve crossed the finish line, but my healthy lifestyle is still a day-by-day choice that I must continually make. But I’m very excited about it and look forward to the new and improved life that lays ahead of me.

Be well at Grinnell Mutual

Our employees are our greatest asset, so we do our best to keep them well. Learn more about the Larry Jansen Wellness Center at our home office in Grinnell, Iowa, which houses a free medical clinic and a fitness center. You can also read about the benefits that come with being on our team.

Learn about our employee benefits Learn about our Wellness Center