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Meet the Yanceys – tight knit and focused on healthy living

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The Yanceys could easily be the poster family for actually spending time together. They get together at the kitchen table for worship and meals. They even sing, dance and perform professionally as a family. They also exercise together, trying to stay physically fit to keep up with their demanding schedule.

"We are a busy, revolving family. We're just trying to stay active," said Marcquinne Yancey, who married Johnny 30 years ago. They have three children – Annese, 22, Alaina, 20, and Nygel, 16 – and their most recent addition, 8-month-old grandson, Ari Marcell Yancey.

Staying active includes working out and losing weight, which is why the Yanceys signed up for the Healthy Church Challenge 100-day weight lost competition when it launched on Feb. 2 at Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church.

Johnny and the children also took out memberships at the Hope and Healing Center. Marcquinne did not. Instead, she decided she'd work out 30 minutes before work and 30 minutes after work at least three days a week. She is the deputy administrator at the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

The Yanceys, members of Spirit of Life Healing Wings International, also took the Challenge last year. Johnny, 57, lost 10.8 pounds; Marcquinne, 51, lost 13.7 pounds and hopes to lose at least 10 pounds during this Challenge. This time she is changing up her exercise regimen in the light of some health issues.

"I've shortened my sessions," she said. "I'm lifting weights and using the Stepper more and the vertical climber. It's a total body workout."

Marcquinne's eating habits have changed too, and she's drinking more water as well. "I have to get my portions down. I was eating more," she said. "It's a process; it's a challenge."

Presented by BlueCross® BlueShield® of Tennessee, the Challenge is designed to address health problems through area faith-based organizations and create a healthier place to live, work and play in Memphis, Shelby County and West Tennessee.

The winning teams of the Challenge will receive prizes that will benefit their churches and health ministries. The grand prize is a $5,000 certificate for fitness equipment and nutritional counseling. There will also be an individual prize awarded to the person who loses the most weight overall.

"If your goal is to eat healthy, work off those unwanted pounds and have some fun doing it, the Healthy Church Challenge is for you," said Calvin Anderson, senior vice president and chief of staff at BlueCross.

Johnny Yancey has a few unwanted pounds that he wants to get rid off – about 25 to be exact. "I want to stay here on earth a few more years," he said. "I want to see my kids grow up some more."

The more Johnny thinks about it, the more it becomes crystal clear to him that African Americans are more susceptible to certain diseases and illnesses than their counterparts. And he doesn't want to add to the statistics.

"Carrying around a lot of weight causes high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes," he said, recalling what he'd ascertained from various studies.

A FedEx retiree, Johnny works out on Mondays and Thursdays. He does aerobics, works out on various light-weight machines at the health center, walks the indoor track and eats healthy meals. In fact, he's a vegetarian, and has been one for 20 years.

"A typical weekly dish is stir-fried veggies and broiled tofu," said Marcquinne, who prepares family meals daily despite having a grueling schedule. "I learned how to cook this way from my momma, who was cooking this way 38 years ago."

"We try to keep the kids from fast food," said Johnny. "But they don't understand that fast food is not good for them at all."

Marcquinne and Johnny are on track to losing the weight. They are making exceptions, strides, and keeping their eyes on a foreseeable goal: a healthy lifestyle. But they are keenly aware that if Annese, Alaina and Nygel want to reach their weight-loss goal, they, too, must work hard and stay focused.

"The girls used to be thin; their bodies are changing," said Marcquinne. "The girls are out of the house, on their own, and they have to have a balanced life. When you're older, your metabolism slows down, so I taught them how to shop and cook. We taught them how to eat healthy."

If worshipping, exercising and eating healthy together comprise the Yancey family routine, music is much more than procedural. It's their lifeline. Marcquinne is a lead soloist, liturgical dancer, and minister of music at Spirit of Life. She also performs musical theatre and sings in her husband's band.

Johnny is a well-known jazz musician and music historian. He plays traditional and contemporary jazz on his trumpet for various local bands, including his own, The Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra, which is comprised of 17 members. He also plays trumpet in the Temple of Deliverance orchestra, plays a weekly gig with the Will Grades ensemble, and teaches jazz at Lausanne Collegiate School in Germantown.

Nygel is an honor student in the optional program at Central High School, where he excels in music. He's been singing, drumming, playing piano and percussion instruments in the school's marching and jazz bands since the 10th grade.

Nygel also plays gigs outside of school – at the Westin Hotel on Beale Street, for example, with the Stephen Lee and Renardo Ward Band, with the Temple of Deliverance orchestra, and with The Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra, his father's band.

Annese and Alaina can sing and dance just like their mother, but they have other interests too. Alaina once ran track, jumped hurdles, and ran long distance before graduating Central. Annese used to sing in the choir at Bellevue Middle School. Then she spent time in the cosmetology department at East High School before graduating.

"We're teaching the baby too," said Marcquinne. "He's been sitting in on our aerobic classes since he was 8 weeks old."

Johnny sums up the entire experience with a little advice: "You have to find time to take care of your health. It's like playing music. You have to practice. You have to be disciplined."

(For more information on the Healthy Church Challenge, call 901.278.0881 or visit Facebook.com/The Healthy Church Challenge.)

Healthy Church Challenge: A good start to a healthier lifestyle

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