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Faces of healthy living

Was your 2020 resolution to get healthy? That might mean more than you think.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

What comes to mind when someone tells you they’re getting healthy? Are they simply going to the gym more, maybe adding a few more salads to their diet? Be honest, does that sound like all “healthy” is?

The thing about healthy is, it means so much more than simply getting more active. Sometimes healthy is taking a more discerning look at the foods you eat. Sometimes it’s about performance, crafting your body into an elite instrument of victory. Sometimes, it’s about simply allowing yourself to breathe.

Here are three locals who redefine what healthy living is all about …

LOCAL SINCE 2001 • When she’s not sharing the benefits of her plant-based diet, Carla Golden enjoys swimming, running, walking the beach, reading and listening to podcasts.

Carla Golden

An advocate for Plant-Based Eating

Beyond founding the Palmetto Plant Eaters Club and spearheading the annual Lowcountry VegFest, Carla Golden has emerged as the face of plant-based eating in the Lowcountry. Through her own wellness initiatives and relentless evangelism of a vegan lifestyle across the community, she has emerged as one of the loudest voices in the room urging people to eat healthier.

So it may surprise some of you that not too long ago this paragon of vegan virtue’s favorite meal was a ribeye steak and a Jack and Coke.

“I thought that I was a health nut because I ate brown bread instead of white bread,” she said. Despite her husband Chad’s medical knowledge as a dentist, the couple fell into what Carla called “protein prison.”

“Since nutrition was not taught in medical school, we were picking up our dietary advice at the gym.”

That all changed when their daughter was born and Carla started taking a more critical eye at what the whole family was eating. “I was particular about what I fed her, and I realized I should be that particular about what I feed myself,” she said. The change from ribeye steaks to curried cauliflower didn’t happen overnight. “It took several years to slowly phase things out and find new things that we enjoy just as much,” she said.

Since nutrition was not taught in medical school, we were picking up our dietary advice at the gym.”

The gradual change at home made its way into the wider world after Carla earned a BS in Holistic Health & Healing, became a Certified Holistic Nutrition Practitioner, and started sharing what she had learned with clients at her private massage therapy practice.

“I realized that working with people one on one worked well for massage but not so much with dietary changes. I don’t want people dependent on me to decide what to eat,” she said. “Individuals need to be educated and empowered so they can make good decisions wherever they go. That’s when I converted my efforts into a group format.”

In 2015 that switch became the Palmetto Plant Eaters Club, a group that meets monthly to benefit from guest speakers on various topics, health books and films, local success stories, and favorite recipes. “A collective, social effort is very impactful,” said Carla. “People have different tastes, budgets, lifestyles, and access. In a group format where we’re able to pool resources and experiences, we can show just about anyone they can do this also.”

For this group, eschewing the many temptations that sit on nearly every shelf of the grocery store and in every restaurant is not just about losing weight. It’s about reclaiming and protecting their health. “It’s a growing movement. There are many people who have been chronically ill and the medical profession has been unable to help them reverse lifestyle diseases. People just want to feel better, and there’s enough science to demonstrate you can largely take control of your own health.”

And years later, does she miss the ribeye steaks? Ask her and she’ll tell you, “Nothing tastes better than feeling good.”

LOCAL Since 2006 • When not coaching lacrosse, Kara Cooke enjoys walking with her family and dog, riding bikes and enjoying island life with friends and family. She encourages local children to sign up for the lacrosse program offered by the Island Rec Center.

Kara Cooke

Sharing her Love for Fitness and sports

For some, physical fitness is a way to combat the post-winter pounds. For others, it’s a way to get out and socialize, whether in a spin class or a CrossFit gym. For Kara Cooke, it was a pathway to victory.

“Lacrosse has always been my passion. I’ve played since middle school and that was my area of fitness for years. My world revolved around training and preparing,” she said.

That’s not to say she was a one-trick pony, however. In high school and in college she’d play whatever was in season, but it was on the lacrosse field where she shone the brightest. “A lot of that was my coach (at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa.), Kathleen Geiger. She had been on the U.S. Team. She’s really passionate about the game and passed that on to her players.”

My world revolved around training and preparing,”

Geiger would be the first hall of famer to instruct Cooke, but not the last. At the University of Virginia, her game improved further under the eye of Jane Miller and then Julie Meyers and Heather Dow. “I’m so thankful for the influence and the guidance that I had.”

While her college career would be marked by two trips to national championship games, falling short both times, she flourished after graduation. (“At the time it was a hard pill to swallow,” she said. “With time it’s easier to be grateful.”) Endless perseverance, guidance and natural talent earned her a spot on the United States team, representing her country in two separate World Cups. She earned gold in 2001 and silver in 2005.

“At that point you were constantly trying out. We didn’t have facilities or dedicated places to train, so we used collegiate programs’ facilities to train. We’d be on our own and come together for weekends. Most of the players and coaches had jobs. It takes a lot of self-motivation to train on your own.”

Cooke would coach for a time at Brown, but motherhood and a career were calling. “Part of me thought I was going to stick to college coaching. But I wanted to find myself in a different way.” She became a counselor, a job she loved, and raised two children with her husband Tim, now head of golf instruction at The Sea Pines Resort. “When I stopped playing lacrosse, I was being more that supporting role and letting him attack his career goals. Now the kids are older and we’re starting to get back to that balance.”

Getting back to that balance means coaching again, where she is developing young players at the high school level. And like herself, those young student-athletes will have the mentorship of a celebrated athlete. In October, Kara joined her former coaches in being enshrined in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

“It was a huge honor. I wasn’t expecting it, and it hasn’t fully hit me yet,” she said.

LOCAL Since 2017 • When she’s not practicing kundalini yoga, Candace Blair enjoys travel and exploration, new experiences, music, beach walks and time with family and friends.

Candace Blair

Finding health using ancient techniques 

Eight years ago, Candace Blair was the picture of the stress-addicted Type A professional. A London-based investment banker, always on the go, she was deputy head of a sales and trading floor, thriving on the chaos of split-second decisions with million-dollar consequences. And while the job was intellectually challenging and financially rewarding,  she was paying the price of turning away from her true feminine nature and alignment with her mind, body and soul.

“I was highly driven and super successful, a leader on the sales desk, but all of the sudden I was suffering from crippling, stress-related back pain,“ she said. After meeting several doctors who struggled to find a cure,  she visited an alternative  energy healer, Sam Kankanamage, of Sen Wellness London/Sri Lanka, who boldly pronounced, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You just haven’t taken a true breath in years.” On his recommendation, she attended her first kundalini yoga class and it was truly a  profound experience.

”I had never chanted or heard a gong; that was so outside of my realm.”

The effects were immediate. The back issues were resolved and an awakening occurred, leading Candace to incorporate yoga and meditation into her daily life.

“It really made me a better broker. I was more calm, more focused. It just opened up a beautiful new world I never knew existed.”

I had never chanted or heard a gong; that was so outside of my realm.”

Spurred on by this new passion, she began her teacher training at Karam Kriya in England/Portugal, while maintaining 60-70 hour work weeks. Once qualified as an instructor, she led weekend classes hoping to inspire others with her knowledge of these ancient techniques. She learned to play the gong and trained as a Cacaoista.

“I loved learning and sharing the teachings,” she said. “I felt I was having a positive impact on society, and it occurred to me that I simply couldn’t read another corporate research report. I couldn’t commit my life or my health to a bank. A whole new world had opened to me, and that is where I wanted to dedicate my studies and my energy.”

Three years ago, she resigned from her high-powered broker job, left London and made her way home to Hilton Head Island. Her parents retired here nearly 30 years ago and the island had been a constant presence in a life marked by movement. It didn’t take her long to find a receptive audience to her teaching.

“When I first arrived,  people were relatively unfamiliar with Kundalini yoga, sound healing, and cacao ceremonies,  but the community opened up to the work I was doing and the reception has been amazing,” she said.

Focused on her passions, she established Soul Fire Social (, and began collaborating with a variety of local studios offering her teachings through retreats, workshops and classes that allow other people who have been holding their breath to finally exhale. In addition to regular classes, Blair will speak at the Memory Matters Brain Health Summit on March 11 on  Wellness Awareness.

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