By Denise Williams | News & Views
If Lisa Reiss’ excitement is any indication, the 2022 World Heart Games – returning after the customary three-year hiatus – is sure to be buzzing with positive energy, both on and off site.
An AACVPR scholarship recipient for the 2019 event, Reiss, RN, will be attending for the fourth time since joining the cardiac rehabilitation program at Habersham Medical Center in Demorest, Georgia, 14 years ago. The facility’s participation predates even her involvement, going back as far as 1990, when the Olympic-style competition first debuted under the banner of the Heart of Gold Games before morphing into AACVPR’s International Heart and Lung Games in the early 2000s and resurfacing as the ACSM World Heart Games in 2010. The registration deadline is fast approaching to participate this year in the event, which is open to stroke or heart attack survivors and anyone who lives with a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
“There is life after having a cardiac event,” promises Reiss, “and these folks realize they can do things they probably never dreamed they could do.” She notes that even people in their 90s can take part – including those with no prior sports background. Anybody can win, too. Reiss should know: one of her proudest moments was the year every single one of Habersham’s 20-plus entrants in the games went home with a medal.
With that many members, Habersham’s is usually one of the larger groups at the event. That may have a lot to do with the staff’s enthusiastic promotion. The facility always includes information in its discharge packet, along with an invite to be added to the contact list for future contestants. Closer to event times, resources such as posters and power point presentations come out, and fundraisers get underway. “We really talk it up,” Reiss is proud to say. Meanwhile, its volleyball team – the “backbone” of the facility’s World Heart Games delegation, according to Reiss – holds regular practices to stay game-ready even during off years, although the pandemic interrupted that routine in 2020 and 2021.
Clearly the event is serious business for Habersham. More importantly, Reiss says, it’s serious FUN. Yes, it is a competition, she explains, but it’s a friendly competition. Many participants are there to compete only against themselves, in what are known as predictive events. Others opt for less physically demanding events such as cornhole or even the Game of Knowledge. “It’s like trivial pursuit,” Reiss explains the latter, “but it’s not trivial information. It’s information gained through the cardiac rehab experience, like the difference between HDL and LDL or the difference between healthy versus non-healthy fats.”
There’s something for everyone, she adds, and for anyone who’s never been, Reiss takes a stab at conveying the atmosphere when the athletes start streaming into Hickory, North Carolina, for the weekend. On one hand, she says, it’s like a pep rally: the energy is high but light-hearted and relaxed, not stressful, as anticipation builds for the event.
At the same time, Reiss suggests, the mood compares with that of a family reunion. “There’s just a sense of togetherness,” she says, both in terms of bonding between CR staff and their competitors as well as the sense of re-connection with participants from previous years. The Habersham crew carpools to the event, and Reiss tries to book everyone on the same corridor of the hotel. They meet for meals, and spouses who tag along for the fun often indulge in joint shopping trips or other activities when they’re not cheering on the team. Players, meanwhile, forge new friendships that blossom and thrive for years. For example, the Habersham volleyball team clicked with a rival team from North Carolina several events ago. For years, before COVID, the two squads arranged volleyball matches against each other throughout the year, keeping the spirit of the World Heart Games alive even during dormant stages.
While Reiss personally knows plenty of people who can’t wait for those three-year interims to pass so they can attend the next competition, she regrets that more people aren’t even aware of the World Heart Games. She admits that she herself hadn’t even heard of it before joining Habersham’s cardiac rehab program. “I love the fact that AACVPR offers scholarships,” Reiss adds. “I’d like to think that because those opportunities are out there, more facilities can participate.”
“I think we owe it to our patients,” she continues. “Once you’re a heart patient, you’re always a heart patient. The World Heart Games embodies being active, and that’s so important to all of us to prevent heart disease and to treat it. We just need to keep going.”
WHAT: 2022 World Heart Games
WHEN: June 3-4, 2022
WHERE: Lenoir-Rhyne University; Hickory, North Carolina