Friday, August 27, 2010

LaLona Speaks at the National Guard Youth Challenge

 Peggy and I in the Blackhawk helicopter

Last Friday around 7:30 AM I boarded a Black Hawk helicopter and was flown with VIP treatment to Fort Stewart, Georgia, home of the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy.  My time there was incredibly impactful and memorable.

Upon arrival, I was briefed on the philosophy behind the program and the details of what makes it work. The National Guard Youth Challenge Academy is available to 16-18 year old high school drop-outs who apply on their own accord. They are in the program for 5 ½ months, during which time most receive their GED and significantly strengthen their character, life skills, and desire to succeed. Upon graduation, the cadets return home and meet with a pre-determined mentor each week for the next year. The graduation rate is over 95% and the success stories run the gamet of careers, including a medical surgeon who often returns as the graduation keynote speaker.
Colonel Frank Williams - He is truly amazing!
He has been with the program from the beginning.
They have graduated over 10,000 Cadets.

The program focuses on respect and self-discipline, and the fruits of such a curriculum were obvious. I was greeted with cadets standing at attention, responded to with ‘yes, ma’am’ at all times, and treated like a well-respected celebrity from the moment I landed to the moment I departed.

After the briefing, I joined the cadets for lunch.  Then I watched in awe as they performed a routine for me around the flag pole, demonstrating their unity and discipline.  This was followed by Peggy Still Johnson of the Peggy Still School of Music performing the Star Spangled Banner, and you could have heard a pin drop as each person in attendance stood at attention and listened with respect and admiration.  Knowing the brave decision that each of these cadets had made to be in this academy, it was one of the more emotional moments of hearing this song sung.  I joined with Peggy on this appearance as a way to support and advocate for MENC (Music Educators National Convention/National Association for Music Education). She spent much of her time at the event speaking with the staff and students about the importance of music in education and even passed out her business card to a few aspiring musical artists.

I was then given the honor of speaking to all 300 cadets.  I shared with them my father’s story of being raised as one of fourteen children in rural Kentucky with a father who only had a third grade education, yet my father’s valuing of education led him to receive his bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees in education and return to his hometown to be the superintendent of the same school district where his father had previously served as janitor.  I was able to reflect on my own life and talk about overcoming obstacles and getting back up again and trying one more time, even though every ounce of you is afraid you might have to experience the dreadful feeling of failure once again.  I tried to explain the euphoric feeling of success after failure, and how confident I was that every single one of them was going to successfully complete this program – and I meant it. 

These young men and women are true heroes. They shared their stories with me of broken and abusive homes, alcoholism and drug use, parenthood at an early age, and more, yet they have each decided to make a change and are dedicate to achieving it. All of us can learn from their courage and optimism.
Star Cadets shared their life stories with us.
They are truly heroes.

After a tour of the facilities and the opportunity to again speak to the women of the academy, I boarded the Black Hawk for the return trip to Atlanta. I have been digesting my experience for days, my eagerness to return, do more to help, and learn more from the cadets increasing incessantly.  Thank you, National Guard, for allowing me this blessing of an opportunity.

Monday, August 23, 2010

LaLona's Fitness Tip #2: Fabulous Abs, Anyone?

This post is dedicated to Megan. She left a comment on a previous post asking for me to share tips on how to best improve the abs.  Please follow in Megan’s footsteps and leave me questions/topics you would like for me to address. I will do my best to respond to everyone!

The secret to have a great mid-section is, well, no secret.  You need to eat well and exercise.  Now, let’s define that in much more detail.

For starters, you need to have a clean diet.  Try to eat natural foods as much as possible and avoid processed foods. They have added sugar, sodium, and a list of other not-so-good things that do very little good and a lot of bad.  Even more importantly really limit your refined sugar intake. Most of us can come up with an excuse for a “special occasion” about every day, so don’t fall into that trap!  If you are eating sugar daily, you will see a big difference in your body just by cutting that out for a month.  Also, it is crucial that you stay hydrated. Try to drink at least 32 ounces of water between wake time and lunch and 32 ounces again between lunch and dinner.

Secondly, be wise with your abdominal workout.  Choose the exercises that make the biggest difference the fastest and do them every day.  Doing abs 1-2 times a week will not lead to the changes people like to see.  You should aim to do abs for 10 minutes a day. Here are three sample exercises that are fantastic:
        Old-fashioned bicycle with a holding twist: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, elbows out.  Start with your legs straight on the floor. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and your legs off the ground about 12 inches. Then, while keeping your left leg straight and in the air, bend your right knee and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Hold this for 2 counts and then switch to the other knee/elbow combo. Do not ever let your feet touch the ground and make sure you are doing the 2 second hold each time. It is this controlled motion that makes it really work your abs! Work up to 20 repetitions.
        Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet in the air. Lift your head and shoulders up off the ground. Tilt your pelvis toward the ground. Then, lift your lower abs off the ground without letting anything else move. This should be a super tiny movement that you can barely even see but it makes a huge difference! Work up to 40 repetitions.
        Lie on your back with your legs straight up in the air, perpendicular to your body so that your body is forming an “L” shape.  Lift your head and shoulders up off the ground.  Lower your legs just until you start to feel your lower back raise off the ground, and then go back up to starting position. Work up to 30 repetitions.

      Enjoy your ab workout!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

LaLona Celebrates the Grand Re-Opening of Toys R Us in Fayetteville, Georgia

Friday was such a fun day!  How many thirty year old women get to spend the day at Toys R Us hanging out with Geoffrey, Arthur, DW, Wow!
Wow! Wubbzy!, Funshine Bear, and Dora?  My two-year old son Brendan sure was jealous!

Toys R Us, a national sponsor of Mrs. America, celebrated a grand re-opening in Fayetteville, Georgia on Friday and Saturday of last week, complete with great deals and appearances from all the major characters listed above.  They invited me to attend and sign autographs and take pictures with the shoppers, which I thoroughly enjoyed!  The little girls and boys all referred to me as "the princess". :-)  I signed autographs for everyone from a nearly newborn baby to a grandmother who wanted copies for all nine grandchildren. I enjoyed talking with the mothers, learning about the ages and interests of their children, and even recruiting a few gorgeous moms to participate in next year's pageant!

I ended the day by using my door prize coupon to buy Brendan's birthday presents.  Hooray!  I can check that off the to-do list!

Thank you, Toys R Us, for including me in this grand, fun event!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

LaLona and Big Peach Running Company Do Outreach at Cross Keys High School

What is better than getting free breakfast, a free t-shirt, free socks, and TWO free pairs of shoes?  
Getting it all while be waited on hand and foot by Mrs. Georgia America!  

The cross country team of Cross Keys High School spent their Saturday morning being fitted for new shoes while I went around to each student individually and signed a personalized autograph.  

The event was sponsored by Big Peach Running Company, definitely Atlanta's finest in fitting you for the best shoe for your foot!  Their experienced staff and several volunteers selected the right fit and handed out shoes donated by Mizuno, Saucony, Kigo, and others! They were joined by Sweet Tomatoes Catering and Honest Tea.  Although I was advertised as the visiting celebrity, the true celebrity was Leonel Ayala, State Champion runner! 

Eager for running tips, I spent much of my time learning from him and others in attendance about how to improve my speed and endurance level.  The team is made up of a very inspiring, respectful, hardworking group of young people with whom I immediately started forming a connection. Their coaches asked me to return after the Mrs.America pageant and take the team through a cross-training day of practice, and I was delighted to accept.  I am looking forward to seeing everyone again soon!

Friday, August 13, 2010

LaLona's Fitness Tip #1: Jumpstart Your Workout

Fitness Tip #1:
Did you know that in a normal cardio workout where a person walks or runs at a consistent pace, it takes twenty minutes just to enter the fat-burning stage?  That means if you are only running for 30 minutes, you burn fat for a very short period of time!  To burn more fat more quickly, you need to jumpstart your workout.  

Try this out:
Walk for 2-5 minutes
Sprint for 2 minutes
Walk for 30 seconds
Sprint for 1 minute
Repeat the walk for 30 seconds/sprint for 1 minute routine until you reach the 15 minute mark (approximately 10 minutes of this interval training). Then, continue your cardio workout as you normally would.  You will see much faster results!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

LaLona's Nutrition Tip #1: Wake up with Protein!

What is America’s most popular breakfast?  It is a bowl of cereal.  What does that do for us?  It will fill us up and give us a degree of energy due to the carbohydrates, calories, and fiber (for some cereals), but it is not the treat our bodies deserve in the morning!  The key to maintaining a high metabolism and maximum mental alertness is to have our bodies balanced with protein, carbohydrates, and good fats.  However, protein, especially, wakes up our bodies physically and mentally.  Here are some good choices to try first thing in the morning:
  • Use 4-6 egg whites combined with 1-2 yolks from cage-free organic eggs to form an omlette.  Add any veggies you like. I prefer spinach, onions, and tomatoes.  For a carbohydrate addition, have half a green apple or a handful of berries.
  • Yummy protein shakes are a life-saver!  My favorite is “Warrior Milk” by Defense Nutrition. Just the title makes me feel tough. J Yes, for those of you who have heard my diet plan before, this is a new brand for me; I have been converted!  It is an all natural protein blend with grass fed cows whey and no sugar added.  In other words, it is super healthy!  It has 153 calories, 3 grams of fat, 12 carbohydrates, 4.4 grams of sugar, and 19 grams of protein per serving. It is excellent just mixed with water and ice, which I have NEVER found to be true of any other protein powder, and that can be quite convenient if you are on the go.  However, I usually have this first thing in the morning before my workout and mix it with ½ cup vanilla coconut milk, ½ cup water, 5 ice cubes, and sometimes a handful of frozen organic mixed berries.   Delicious!
  • Try plain Greek yogurt with six almonds mixed in, plus add a few berries for a few more good carbohydrates.  This is a quick, on-the-go, delicious alternative.
When I started diligently doing this, I noticed I was more alert and had more energy during my morning workout.  Try it out and let me know how you feel!  

Monday, August 9, 2010

This was an eventful week!

This was an eventful week!  Brendan, Hadley, and I spent Monday at the zoo with one of my closest friends and her three kids.  It was an overcast day constantly threatening rain, which deterred many people from coming; we felt like we nearly had the place to ourselves!  All of the animals that are usually hiding in the shade were out to say hello, and Brendan was especially intrigued by the three-week old baby giraffe!

Tuesday morning I headed to the Atlanta Speech School for a meeting on upcoming middle school professional development sessions, and then spent the afternoon solidifying one of my new, fantastic sponsors – Vein Innovations!  Check out their link on this page for more information.

With deadlines looming, I dedicated Wednesday and Thursday to finalizing my paperwork for Mrs. America and talking with my designer to nail down details for the state costume I will wear on stage for opening number.  Randall , I am so excited to be working with you!

Friday was filled with friends and family fun, as we spent the afternoon swimming at a friend’s pool and reuniting with a friends that had moved away recently.  Dan miraculously got home early that night (He is a corporate tax accountant, so he works long hours right now.), and we were able to spend time playing make-believe with Brendan and Hadley before they headed off to bed. There is nothing better than the whole family in one room acting like kids!  We topped the night off by putting the computers and phones away and snuggling up on the couch to watch a movie.  Ahh… that so important for maintaining balance!
We all enjoyed a  1 and 3 year olds’ birthday parties this morning, and then I spent the afternoon helping Brendan make a cake from scratch (He loves to cook!), and chasing Hadley around the house whenever he would take off his pants and diaper (Ugh. I hope this phase ends soon).  Dan should be home from work any minute, so the whole house is getting excited to see Daddy!  We are looking forward to a relaxing Saturday night and Sunday.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Toys "R" US Special!

Attention Fayetteville, GA Moms (and Dads, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Friends!)  We want you to join the I Want to Be a Toys“R”Us Mom campaign celebrating moms!
Toys”R”Us in Fayetteville, GA will be re-opening Friday, August 13th at 10 a.m. Store Address: 132 Pavilion Parkway, Fayetteville, GA 30214

Toys“R”Us is holding Grand Opening celebrations for new and renovated stores across the country– and we want you to join the party!
Locate a Grand Opening near you by visiting and typing in your zip code. Select your neighborhood Toys“R”Us store to download your ‘secret coupon’ and redeem it on Grand Opening Weekend to reveal shopping discount; you could be rewarded with up to 50% off any single item!
If that is not enough, be up to one of the first 100 people through the door Friday morning at 10:00 a.m. opening weekend to receive a FREE gift bag valued at over $100!
Spread the word to your mom friends! 
For more information visit

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Please help Mrs. Georgia, LaLona Richards, get to the 2010 Mrs. America Pageant

LaLona Richards needs your help!

LaLona needs to raise funds for costume, dress, and expenses for the 2010 Mrs. America Pagaent which will be held August 31st thru September 7th, 2010.

Any donation you can give is very much appreciated.
Small business sponsorships are available as well and appreciated.

We are proud to have the beautiful and talented LaLona Richards represent Georgia - 

To donate, please contact her manager 
Peggy Still Johnson