It’s no surprise that the Bay area is a playground for the health nut. Bicycle clubs convene for regular jaunts across the Africatown bridge as paddleboarders navigate the quiet waters of Fowl River. Although our picturesque haven on Mobile Bay deserves a tip of the hat for encouraging active lifestyles, the wellbeing of a community comes down to its people — the innovators, motivators and healers.
The Personal Trainer
As the head athletic trainer at Gulf Shores High School, Gary Zakutney was working the sidelines during the football game the way he always did, tending to the usual bumps and bruises. When a touchdown pass cut through the night air and landed in the hands of a Gulf Shores player – one whom Zakutney had helped rehab all summer from an ACL injury – a routine game turned into a memorable experience. “He came up and gave me a big ol’ hug, ” Zakutney remembers. “There’s really nothing like it.”
Now a personal trainer at Personal Edge Fitness on Springhill Avenue, Zakutney says he’s still chasing that feeling. “It’s the same experience here. A person will come in, and we’ll talk about their end goal. When they eventually hit that goal, there’s no better feeling.”
After graduating from Troy State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis in sports medicine, Zakutney returned to Mobile where he served stints as the head athletic trainer for Gulf Shores, Foley and McGill-Toolen high schools. Now at Personal Edge Fitness, the former competitive triathlete works with clients “ranging from age 8 to 88.”
“Everything is à la carte, ” Zakutney explains. “Each person’s goals and needs are different.” He finds that creating tailored workout plans is best for his clients and also adds some much-needed variety to his job: “I can’t picture myself at a desk job!”
Q. What’s the best way for people to protect themselves against injury?
A. They should make sure someone is there to watch their form. Often, people ask “how much weight do you squat?” instead of “how well do you squat?” When form gets lost, that’s when injuries occur.
The Zen Dentist
When a realtor first took dentist Phillip Greer to the building that now houses his beloved Sweet Water Dentistry, he fell in love instantly. “I heard the sound of the creek running past, and I knew I had the opportunity to create a dental office like no other.” Sweet Water Creek, a cold spring that originates in the Appalachian Mountains, isn’t the only thing drawing people to Greer’s office. They come for the top-notch dental work and the atmosphere, which can only be described as a celebration of all things Fairhope.
Greer is a Mobile native and a graduate of St. Paul’s Episcopal School. After receiving his Doctor of Dental Surgery from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, he settled in Fairhope and started a family. In just a few short years, Sweet Water Dentistry has earned a sterling reputation. Patients are greeted with driftwood art, dental chairs overlooking the water, skylights and even a hammock slung over a sandy outdoor waiting area.
“Dentistry is the most feared of all medical appointments, ” says Greer, who has cared for patients from Lower Alabama to Latin America on the mission fields of Mexico, Honduras and Peru. “Our office here helps build people’s trust. No one should lose their smile out of fear.”
Q. What kind of out-of-the-ordinary fitness activity do you enjoy?
A. I really enjoy stand up paddleboarding. I’ve considered doing yoga on a paddleboard. Don’t hold me to that, though.
The Head Honcho
If you come across one of Katy D’Olive’s new business cards, the phrase “Head Honcho” stares back, a play on words that makes D’Olive chuckle. “Don’t you love that?” she asks.
Plenty of Mobilians do love the Head Honcho. The service D’Olive provides is the only one of its kind in Mobile, and it’s the last job you’d expect a Spring Hill mother to have taken up: Katy D’Olive is a lice removal specialist.
After struggling with lice on her own children, D’Olive realized the community’s need for a professional. “I started researching and found these huge, lice removal businesses all over the United States, so I started calling.” One such business in Atlanta agreed to train D’Olive. Now armed with experience and credentials, she’s begun making house calls in Mobile.
What D’Olive wants to get across to people is the amount of money wasted on ineffective products and faulty self-treatment. “Upon discovery of lice, it would be in your best interest to call me first. I give free advice over the phone!” Let’s just say if you have a lice problem, D’Olive is itching to help.
Q. What steps can people take to protect themselves against lice during a local outbreak?
A. Absolutely no head-to-head contact or sharing pillows, brushes, combs or hair ties. I also encourage the use of preventative products like repellants or shampoos.
The Inspiring Coach
If the girls on the varsity volleyball squad at Daphne High School want to see an example of success, they needn’t look further than their own head coach.
Coach Edoli Herrion has been in their position. Since graduating from Daphne in 2001 (where she played volleyball, basketball and softball), Herrion attended the University of West Alabama on a volleyball scholarship. During those years, another door opened up: “My teammates and I worked satellite camps with local schools every summer. It was so exciting to see young athletes finally ‘get it’ after three hours of training. That led me to coaching the club team at Eastern Shore Volleyball Club, and it went from there.”
In addition, Coach E has also led the junior varsity basketball and varsity track teams at Daphne. As a former athletic star at Daphne, she draws on her own experiences when it comes to coaching. “Mentoring, time management, discipline and multitasking are the elements I pull from having played sports to help with my own ability to coach.”
In her line of work, the rewards never end. “I love to see the transition from the first day of a class’s freshman year to the day they walk across the stage at graduation.”
Q. How does next season look for the Daphne varsity volleyball team?
A. We are going to be pretty solid! I only have two seniors, but in combination with a few key underclassmen, we will definitely be very competitive.
The Natural Healer
DR. XUE-CUI XIANG
In the waiting room of Chinese Acupuncture Associates’ Mobile branch sits a gray-haired man with a story. Years ago, during a visit with his general practitioner, he was told that the Bell’s palsy that had weakened the muscles on one side of his face was incurable. Two years after turning to Xue-Cui Xiang, an acupuncture specialist, the man’s face muscles break into a healthy smile.
Xiang’s waiting room is filled with such stories. “People who come here have often tried everything else, ” she explains. “I am their last hope.” Xiang is from Southwest China, a city called Chongqing. After having become renowned in the field of Chinese medicine, she was invited to America as a visiting scholar before officially moving to the States in 1989, where she has been practicing ever since.
Now, four family-run clinics line the Gulf Coast, bringing traditional Chinese medicine to hundreds of satisfied patients. “Unlike Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine treats the cause, not just the symptoms, ” she says. “Treatments such as acupuncture are meant to stimulate and encourage parts of the body to heal themselves.”
Luckily for us, she doesn’t see herself leaving Mobile anytime soon. “It is very different from China, but I like it here.”
Q. What do you tell those who are on the fence about whether or not to try acupuncture?
A. Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for 6, 000 years. It doesn’t hurt to try it once. If you decide it’s not for you, at least you tried. But, if it makes you feel better, schedule a second appointment.
The Student Athlete
Thirteen feet and 6 inches. That’s how high the bar was set above the earth when McGill-Toolen junior Margaret Ollinger raced down the runway, planted her pole in the ground and catapulted herself through the air. By the time she landed on the other side with a soft thud, she had set a pole vaulting record for the state of Alabama. In doing so, she also secured her place as one of the top three female high school pole vaulters in the nation.
Ollinger, a Fairhope native, says that her choice of pole vaulting came about because she’s “always loved heights and doing daring things.” As a seventh grader at Christ the King Catholic School, in Daphne, she began competing on the junior varsity team for McGill-Toolen and was promoted to varsity before entering the eighth grade. Ollinger hopes to finish with a strong senior year in 2015/2016 to give herself an opportunity to compete at the Division 1A level in college.
Besides pole vaulting, she’s found success in swimming, sailing, hurtling, running — and academics. For Ollinger, setting the bar high in all facets of life is a philosophy instilled in her from a young age, and she credits her parents’ trust in her for her achievements. And while Ollinger’s athletic results may be recorded as “personal bests, ” her constant determination to be her own “personal best” is sure to shape the rest of her life. – Additional reporting by Robin Fitzhugh
Q. Besides competing in the New Balance Outdoor Track and Field Nationals, what are your plans for your break before senior year?
A. Summer means spending time at my family’s Bay house: swimming, boating, sailing and getting in some competitive waterskiing with my father at tournaments here and in Florida.
The Family Man
“I was the firstborn son of Greek immigrants, ” George Koulianos says from behind his desk at the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Mobile. “As with any immigrant family, my parents hoped to provide a better life for me, so by age 5, they began telling me I was going to be a doctor.” He smiles. “I eventually bought in.”
He bought in all right, and plenty of couples are happier for it: around 3, 500 to be specific. In 1993, Koulianos founded the fertility center in partnership with Mobile Infirmary. Today, the practice is the regional leader in outcome, volume and breadth of experience. And if you ask Koulianos, it’s the way the Center works that makes the difference. “My vision was to build a regional center that was going to put outcomes and service first. It was about medicine as a calling, not a way to generate income.”
In his line of work, the fruits of his labor are sometimes overwhelming. “The reward is observing these children grow up. I watch these kids, and I know that we played a part in that child’s life. Sometimes you just want to cry.”
Q. What’s your favorite way to get active?
A. In 2012, I bought a farm that’s on the way to Dauphin Island. I get a lot of exercise working in the garden and growing vegetables that I’ve just started selling at the Cathedral Square Market.
The Essential Oil Guru
Six years ago, young mom Amber Harrison’s infant son was suffering from an ear infection. Yet antibiotics didn’t seem to work; they only made him scream louder than the infection itself. “I said to myself, ‘There has got to be a better way than this.’”
A lot has changed in six years. Her son is now a healthy 7 year old, and Harrison makes a living as a distributor for one of the largest essential oil producers in the world. Not to mention, she hasn’t used a prescription since.
As Harrison explains, an essential oil is basically the blood of a plant. Plants are pressed or steamed, and the oils produced in the process can be used for a large variety of treatments. She has taught classes about the use of essential oils in Mobile, as well as South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Georgia.
Ask about the most rewarding part of her job, and her
eyes spark with enthusiasm: “I want to educate parents so they have the ability to take the health of their children into their own hands.”
Q. As a proponent of natural childbirth, what would you say to a mom-to-be who is considering it?
A. Be prepared! Arm yourself with as much knowledge going into it as you can. There are several great locals who offer childbirth education classes. I also highly recommend hiring a doula for a natural hospital birth.
text by Breck Pappas • photos by matthew coughlin