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Doug Mercer

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Doug Mercer

By Claire Walla

A Conversation with Doug Mercer the proponent of fostering healthier eating habits on the East End who founded the Wellness Foundation in East Hampton in 2005. The organization will hold its first benefit later this month.

The Wellness Challenge promotes eating an all vegan diet for six weeks, eliminating meat and dairy. What’s the biggest problem with animal products?

It’s the cholesterol and the fat. Meat just doesn’t have the phytonutrients you need.

We don’t have anything around here that says, “We’re trying to crank-out vegans.” We focus on empowering people so they can maximize their wellness potential, so incremental improvements are also extremely important. With meat, it’s a function of the volume you’re consuming. Dr. [Antinia Fermin, a Wellness Foundation consultant and author of the book “Food Is Elementary”] says if you’re consuming 90 percent natural plant food you’re in reasonable shape.

Are you yourself strictly vegan?

No, I have fish a couple times a week and egg whites maybe once a week.

How many people have participated in the program thus far?

We’re up to about 500 people since [the Wellness Challenge began in earnest] in 2009. The average total cholesterol drop is about 35 points and weight loss is about nine pounds. But, even more importantly, there are other factors related to how you feel and how much energy you have, like [reduced] joint pain, headaches and upper respiratory congestion.

Do you know how many people actually stick with the program?

We don’t have any hard numbers on that, but that’s what we’re working on getting going forward.

What was your reason for making lifestyle changes yourself?

It was to avoid the strokes that caused my Dad’s early death. He was 62 when he had his first stroke. He basically turned into a vegetable.

What was your diet like at that point?

It was a standard American diet. Good, but far too much dairy and far too much meat. One of the things I noticed immediately after cutting out the dairy [in 1999] was it eliminated upper respiratory congestion. Chronic bronchitis had been a problem for me throughout my life.

Why did you decide to create the Wellness Foundation and introduce these lifestyle changes to others?

In 2005, the kids at the middle school in East Hampton had been boycotting the unhealthy food in their cafeteria. I thought, here’s how I can do something for my immediate community.

The Wellness Foundation focuses on a plant-based diet, exercise and the reduction of stress. Why this specific lifestyle?

I guess I knew that scientifically it would work — it was working for me. My major question was what its reception would be like here. In 2005, that was very much at the beginning of the current trend [in healthier eating]. In all honesty, we were just lucky. At this point, we actually have doctors participating and even recommending their patients take the Challenge.

The Wellness Foundation will be holding its first Benefit on June 30. Do you have a specific goal for the money you hope to raise?

To reach more people with the programs we already have in place. The first six years it was all my plan; I funded all the operations at that point. A year ago we started a community-based fundraising initiative and this is the first year we’ve had a benefit.

I imagine it’s pretty difficult for people to make some of the lifestyle changes the Wellness Challenge promotes.

Yeah, but I think it used to be more awkward. I used to feel more self-conscious about it, particularly around the guys. But, the options are better now. Our Wellness Challenge ‘W’ is on the menu in 22 local restaurants. And you can always eat from the side dishes, ask not to have white bread, order a salad with oil and vinegar on the side…

We’re really addressing the causes of degenerative diseases through lifestyle. This is a lifestyle change that really has to come from your gut. You have to do it yourself, which is really the American Way.

The first annual Wellness Foundation Summer Benefit will be June 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mercer’s residence at 65 Dunemere Lane, overlooking Hook Pond in East Hampton Village. Tickets are $150 each and can be ordered at www.wfeh.org or by calling 329-2590. RSVP by June 16.

Richard Flood

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The North Haven resident and local builder has teamed up with Doug Herman to organize the inaugural Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Memorial Fishing Tournament to benefit Building Homes for Heroes and the Wounded Warrior Project this Saturday in Sag Harbor. Haerter, a Sag Harbor native and Marine, was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber in April 2008, saving the lives of countless soldiers and Iraqi police officers.

When did you decide to organize a fishing tournament in Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter’s memory?

Without being pinned down to a date, it was probably back in June. A bunch of us guys were sitting around having beers when Doug Herman, and he really deserves the credit, said why don’t we have a fishing tournament in Jordan’s memory. It was something we thought the whole family could get involved in, especially since we have not had a fishing tournament in Sag Harbor in so long. It seemed like a lighter way, than a 21-gun salute, to honor Jordan; not that we don’t want to remember the fact that he is a fallen Marine, but we did think we could celebrate his memory in a lighter way, traditional to Sag Harbor.

What has been your relationship with Jordan and his family? Are they excited for the event?

I have been friends with Chris, Jordan’s father, I am going to say about 12 years, give or take a year. Chris is a true Sag Harbor local, meaning I am pretty sure he was born here. I have lived here for 14 years and Chris and Jordan were obviously involved in our lives, at parties, out on the boat, and with my son for a good part of that time. I know both JoAnn [Lyles, Jordan’s mother] and Chris are over the top about the event. We had a booth at HarborFest to promote the tournament and Chris had a tent next to us for the charitable organization he has founded in Jordan’s memory, Jordan’s Initiative, which provides for deployed troops and their families. They have been really great about getting the word out about the event.

The tournament and after party will benefit Building Homes for Heroes and the Wounded Warrior Project. Were you familiar with these organizations prior to putting this tournament together?

Well, I don’t think anyone could not be familiar with the Wounded Warrior Project. You would have to live in a cave out here to not have heard of them. It was Doug Herman who suggested Building Homes for Heroes because his cousin has been very active with that organization.

What kind of anglers would you like to see show up on Saturday? Do you expect this to be a family friendly event?

We want so much for this to be a family event, which is why in addition to the striped bass and fishing tournament we will have an event under the tent on Long Wharf starting at 11 a.m. We are hoping that with everyone who is fishing, their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends and children will come to the event, participate in the auctions and raffles and have a bite to eat. Peter Ambrose with The Sea Food Shop is paying for the tent which means the money we would have used for that will benefit Wounded Warrior and Building Homes for Heroes. This is all building for the future. If we only get 50 people, we are hoping for 200 next year. Hopefully we will have 200 this year.

The fishing itself will be a mixed bag – fathers and sons, brothers and brothers, friends, kids on boats. We are hosting a snapper derby for kids under ten at Long Wharf with free ice cream and one kid will get a trophy. We will also have a filet station, so if you want your fish filleted you can do that and anything people don’t want to keep we will donate to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry.

Sag Harbor has been without its own fishing tournament in recent years. Do you envision this tournament becoming an annual event?

Yes. That is the whole thing. We want it to grow. In the short amount of time we have been organizing this we have had so much support. Wouldn’t it be nice if three years from now we had 50, 60 boats out there and hundreds of people coming to Sag Harbor the weekend after HarborFest because the tournament has become as memorable as HarborFest? It is a win-win situation if we can keep this going.

The Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Memorial Fishing Tournament to benefit Building Homes for Heroes and the Wounded Warrior Project will be held this Saturday, September 19. Fishing is from Shinnecock Inlet to Montauk Point with no fishing allowed prior to 4 a.m. The weigh in party begins at 11 a.m. on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Cash prizes will be awarded in the adult and juniors division for the heaviest striped bass and bluefish, and food, auctions and raffles will also be held under the tent on Long Wharf. For more information or to register, contact Rich Flood at 774-7682.