Grads walk the stage Dec. 15

Image of graduation hats from the back - one has fabric attached to it with a cow spot pattern.A total of 688 UW-La Crosse students are candidates for graduation during the 49th annual Winter Commencement. The 566 undergraduate students and 99 graduate students will walk the stage at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, at the La Crosse Center, 300 Harborview Plaza, La Crosse.

The ceremony includes graduates from UW-L’s three colleges: the College of Business Administration, the College of Liberal Studies and the College of Science and Health. No reservations or tickets are required. UW-L senior Lindsay Robertson will give the student address.

One graduate shares her story about seeking better health and education.

“It was hard, but I feel like if I can do it, there are so many non-traditional students out there who can do it too,” says December graduate Tanya Van Risseghem. “I hope they hear my story, and it will be enough encouragement for even one person to push forward.”

Tanya Van Risseghem family picture including Tanya, her four children and husband.

Tanya Van Risseghem, back left, pictured with her family.

Grad overcomes obesity, plans future promoting health

In 2000 Tanya Van Risseghem began a battle with obesity. After having her third child she tried every diet, but couldn’t take off weight. Her health declined and she reached 240 pounds. A stay-at-home mom, Van Risseghem didn’t feel qualified for the job.

“I was tired all the time,” she recalls. “I wanted to have energy to play with my children and function on day-to-day basis, but I didn’t.”

That’s a stark contrast from Van Risseghem today. The UW-La Crosse senior has put immense energy into obtaining a college degree despite challenges that would force most to give-up: a 152-mile round trip commute from Richland Center, working part time nights and weekends, and raising her four children, including a newborn.

On Dec. 15 the 36-year-old will graduate from UW-L with a degree in Community Health Education and a minor in nutrition. She hopes to land a job as a community health educator and help others learn from her health experience. In particular, she’d love to work near Richland County where 75 percent of the adults are considered overweight or obese.

“We need to reach out to parents in the community and show them what they can do to help children and in turn help themselves,” she says. “A lot of times we don’t think we have problem. We are doing the best we can with the knowledge we have.”

Van Risseghem decided to stop her rollercoaster of diets, poor health and depression in 2006 after she moved to Wisconsin and divorced. She knew she needed a lifestyle change.

At first that meant eating healthier and walking regularly. Two years later she ran her first 5K. She lost a total of 80 pounds and maintained a weight of 160. The health changes led to feeling happier, having more energy and being a better mom.

Van Risseghem wanted to go back to school to learn about nutrition and community health to teach others about the health benefits she had experienced. But with three children and a full-time job, she knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Van Risseghem started at UW-Richland in 2008 taking general education courses while working part time. Then she transferred to UW-L in 2010, commuting 76 miles one way from Richland Center. She is grateful to her professors, and especially Guy Herling, assistant dean of the College of Science and Health, who helped her decide on classes to take at UW-Richland to successfully transfer to UW-L.

“I had been a stay-at-home mom for years, so I no idea what to do,” she explains.

As she started on the educational path, her strong interest in her classes confirmed her desire to keep going. September this year she started her educational internship at Richland Fit, a healthy living coalition in Richland County where she has been providing health education for community residents.

Van Risseghem has learned that a healthy lifestyle is a daily choice — one she still struggles with on a daily basis. She is remarried and while pregnant with her fourth child, she gained back some of her weight. She now has 25 pounds to lose from pregnancy to reach her goal of 160 again. But that’s motivated her to set a new goal of running a marathon next October.

Her motivation to keep going has come from a strong support group. Friends and family help babysit, tell her she can do it and offer a listening ear. Her UW-L professors, too, haven’t let her give up.

“I can’t tell you how many times felt like crying and saying I can’t do this anymore,” she says. “My instructors — all of them — as well as family, kept encouraging me to keep going.”