When Oprah calls, you drop everything

When Oprah calls, you drop everything

Sylka Perez-Garcia (second from right) joins Oprah to kick off the 2020 Vision Tour in Fort Lauderdale Beach on Jan. 3. 
By Jennifer Palma Sanchez

Sylka Perez-Garcia (second from right) joins Oprah to kick off the 2020 Vision Tour in Fort Lauderdale Beach on Jan. 3. 

When Oprah calls, you drop everything

By Jennifer Palma Sanchez
One University of Miami employee shares how the WW at Work employee benefit program changed her life—and introduced her to Oprah Winfrey.

Over the span of three years, Sylka Perez-Garcia, executive assistant to the dean at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, felt like she couldn’t catch a break. She unexpectedly lost her grandmother, experienced a breast cancer scare, and lost control of her health. During a trip with her family to Walt Disney World—her favorite place—she was shocked when she didn’t recognize a photo of herself. “I finally got to the point that I was tired of being sick and tired,” said Perez-Garcia. So she decided to take action. 

In Jan. 2017 she joined Human Resources’ (HR) Total Rewards WW at Work program (formerly Weight Watchers at Work) at the Rosenstiel School and began what would become a lifelong journey to wellness. After losing 55 pounds and gaining a new-found sense of health, she knew that she wanted to share her journey to inspire others. Soon after she started working toward her own goals, Perez-Garcia made plans to introduce the WW at Work program to her colleagues on Virginia Key.

“With the support of HR, we gathered a group of employees who were interested in joining the program and the rest is history. We’ve been meeting once a week since 2017, and I still look forward to sharing our successes and challenges while supporting each other,” she said.

Today, Perez-Garcia’s passion for building a community of well-being at the Rosenstiel School includes group walks at lunchtime through Walking ’Canes, workout classes after work, and an open-door policy where she is always willing to share advice based on her  experiences. While she is reluctant to take credit as the champion behind the successes of her co-workers, others around her were keeping tabs on her hard work—including Oprah.

When the University’s WW at Work representative encouraged Perez-Garcia to submit her success story to People Magazine, she never anticipated that Oprah herself would take notice. 

In fact, when Oprah’s team reached out, they weren’t interested in publishing the details in People Magazine. Instead they wanted Perez-Garcia to represent the WW at Work program on behalf of South Florida and the University of Miami during Oprah’s upcoming 2020 Vision Tour. 

“At the time, I didn’t know what sharing my story would entail, but when Oprah asks you to do something, you don’t say no,” she said jokingly. 

After agreeing to work with Oprah’s team, Perez-Garcia knew that she wanted to take her colleagues along for the journey. Unknowingly, that journey would start before sunrise on Jan. 3 in Fort Lauderdale for a wellness walk and live taping for a segment of the Today Show, and end on Jan. 4 kicking off the 2020 Vision Tour at BB&T Center, all with Oprah by her side. 

“I’m incredibly grateful for the entire experience. The University’s WW at Work program has changed my life. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share my experience with Oprah and the WW community,” said Perez-Garcia. 

As part of the Well ’Canes employee benefit program, the University supports wellness efforts by reimbursing 100 percent of registration costs during your first 12-week WW at Work session. Since 2016, University of Miami WW members have lost a collective total of almost 5,000 pounds and have worked together to enhance their overall well-being. The WW at Work program has been offered at the U since 2006.

Interested in joining on your campus?  Learn more about the program, upcoming registration dates on each campus, and the reimbursement for UM participants.