Redefining Wellness

Above: As local television personalities, Erin Kiernan and Sonia Heitshusen have had to experience life’s setbacks in the public eye. Experience has taught them important lessons that they now share in a wellness program. 

Writer: Karla Walsh
Photographer: Paige Peterson

Twenty-one years ago, when Erin Kiernan started her first full-time TV reporting job at WOI, she never imagined she’d someday be friends with—let alone launch a wellness brand alongside—her idol and the main news anchor, Sonya Heitshusen. 

“I was really green, and in the beginning I think she was mostly annoyed by me and my lack of experience,” Kiernan says. 

“Many of our initial conversations [centered on] her inability to ‘make slot,’ or get her stories done on time,” Heitshusen adds.

Still, Heitshusen, now 51, took Kiernan, now 45, under her wing, “and we slowly built a relationship that was more than just a professional one,” Kiernan says. Years passed and new career opportunities arose (KCCI for Kiernan, pharmaceutical sales for Heitshusen), and the two lost touch. Yet when they both landed at WHO in 2005, the sister-like relationship picked right back up. So much so that Kiernan now says, “I don’t know how I would’ve survived the last 13 years without Sonya.”

Kiernan and Heitshusen have weathered their share of storms together during their two-decade relationship. “Life is going to have ups and downs. Some of the down times will kick you in the ass,” Heitshusen says. “How you deal with them—and recover from them—is what’s important.” 

Life in the public eye made it difficult for the co-workers to hide from the “downs,” including Kiernan’s 10-year struggle with infertility that she says “took a huge toll on my marriage” and Heitshusen’s OWI charge in June 2014 that left her “terrified,” she says. 

“For many years, we engaged in what we called ‘The Three Ws’ as a way to cope with stress, grief and depression: ‘Work. Wine. Workout.’ These things are good in moderation, but it became unhealthy when we did all of them to excess,” Kiernan says. “I was in fantastic physical shape at the time, as Sonya and I had recently completed numerous firefighter fitness tests for a news report, but my mental health was in the toilet. A lot of my relationships were fraying, too.”

So in 2015, Heitshusen and Kiernan decided to focus on just one “W” as a coping mechanism—and survival strategy, really: Wellness.

“Finishing my first Ironman in 2015 was a breakthrough moment. I proved to myself that I was stronger physically and mentally than I thought,” Heitshusen says.

Almost simultaneously, Kiernan had a breakthrough of her own. “Getting pregnant with my son Michael, who was born in October 2015, finally turned things around for me. Suddenly, my life had new purpose.”

“We both realized at about the same time that being ‘well’ does not mean living on the extremes, whether that’s being as skinny as possible or working out as much as possible. That just doesn’t make for a happy life. Wellness really starts in your head, with your outlook and attitude,” Heitshusen says.

The duo’s ability to bounce back from their lowest moments led to an invitation to host a wellness weekend in fall of 2016. This marked the beginning of their next partnership: One Brain Wellness.

The invitation “forced us to make this rather ambiguous dream we’d had for months a reality,” Kiernan says. “It also helped us to start clearly defining how we wanted to serve people, which turned out to be something much more than just another workout center or personal training business.”

The definition begins with this motto: Life is short. Love yourself. Challenge yourself. Believe in yourself.

“We joke that we share a brain because of freaky occurrences: buying the same clothes without discussing it, finishing each other’s sentences and texting each other at the same time about the same topic, hence the name One Brain Wellness,” Heitshusen says.

Since many online wellness programs already offer prescribed workouts and menu plans, Heitshusen and Kiernan, who both have fitness certifications, decided to focus on a more all-encompassing mental and physical approach. The women deemed 2018 “the Year of Well-Being,” and collaborated with other health professionals to set a different intention for the 3,500 One Brain Wellness Facebook followers each month. For instance, June focused on financial health, while July was devoted to volunteer opportunities.

“Wellness is how you’re existing as a whole person. It’s not just physical aspects like your weight, your nutrition, your blood pressure or your fitness level. It’s also your mental health, your relationships, your career, your finances—and maybe most importantly, your relationship with yourself,”
Kiernan says.

Heitshusen echoes that sentiment: “I’m tired of spending valuable time hating on my thighs—and myself. I’d rather put that energy toward trying new things and enjoying life. Our goal as we move forward with One Brain Wellness is to get people moving, with the understanding that they don’t have to be ‘perfect.’ The goal is not to be a certain size or weight. The goal is to be happy and to enjoy life. Life doesn’t offer do-overs. You only get one.”

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