By Annika Tomlin
Let’s be honest, college is hard on everyone, and sometimes a little help can go a long way. Los Angeles-based couple Jill and Dave Henry took it upon themselves to help their Flintridge Prep High School seniors playing football and cross country prepare for the years ahead. As a result, they published “The Greatest College Health Guide You Never Knew You Needed.”
“This all started because one of my athletes who was a senior at the time, didn’t do any other sport other than cross country,” Jill says. “At the last meet of the season, she came up to me with tears in her eyes and asked, ‘Coach, how do I not get fat in college?’”
Immediately touched by the impact of the connection they made with their students, the couple knew that they had to provide them with answers to their questions. Questions included the freshman 15, how to manage stress, sleep and drinking and an array of other topics.
“Initially we thought we would try and find a book or find her resources and put them together, and we couldn’t find anything that had good information that was also something that she would want to read,” Jill says.
“We started talking to the rest of the seniors about it, and we were like, there is a ton of information out there. It’s just not packaged in a way that you would want to read. If we were going to put this together, it would require us to write a book.”
And they did just that.
The book came out as the seniors who started the conversation were graduating college, but the information is still relevant.
At the time the duo was writing the book, Dave had stepped down from coaching and was taking care of their first child.
“We had a 6-month-old baby at the moment, so taking on a project like that seemed significant,” Dave says.
“Once we decided we were going to do it, ultimately we had to answer the question: How do we give these kids everything that they need in order to learn how to take care of themselves and also package it in a way that it’s entertaining enough that a 19- to 24-year-old is actually going to read this? It was about a year and change to have the manuscript in pretty good shape, and then we started approaching publishers.”
It would be another year before the couple signed with Sky Horse and then an additional two years before the book was published in June.
“The thing that took the most amount of time was once we cracked the formula for the book, which is essentially our own experience to get into these topics, whether it is booze or stress, and then weaving in information that is practical that will show you how to implement this stuff into your life with the student responses,” Dave says. “We got over 100 quotes from students around the country.”
Initially, the couple started with students that they formerly coached that were in college at the time of writing — and then it snowballed. Responses came from students at the University of California, Los Angeles all the way to New York University.
“It helped provide a much better communal understanding of we are all in this together. It’s hard, and everybody struggles with something,” Dave says. “It’s absolutely OK when you struggle with something. Here are things that everybody has done in order to try and feel better when they are not feeling great.”
Jill and Dave at first were given pushback when going to publishers, pitching their idea as a book rather than a YouTube series or other platforms.
“I think at multiple points we were questioned about why we did that,” Jill says. “I think what we like about the fact that it is a book, is that all this information is out there but it lacks a consolidation in the way that this book provides and it also lacks a consistent voice.
“Just something about the physical object of having it and holding it and having a resource that you can highlight and go back to that we really liked. I’m sure there are apps with this in it, but I think that having the narrative that you can kind of sit down and be like you are learning this stuff in a digestible way where you are almost surprised you are done reading it.”
Whether it is a soon-to-be college student reading the guide or a grandparent learning new information, the Henrys hope that their book provides comfort for those who “are not feeling great about something.”
“When you are in that moment of like ‘ugh,’ whether you are lonely, whether you haven’t been sleeping enough, whatever the root cause is, it’s difficult at home to be like, ‘Oh, I just need to Google all of these peer reviews and find the right thing,’” Dave says. “When you are in that place of feeling down, trying to find the right thing to make you feel better and is simple isn’t always a question that you like asking.”
Dave brought up how a good amount of those searches end up “watching a video on cats again” but that the consolidated book is an easier go-to than scavenging the internet.
The Henrys discussed a variety of topics, from drinking to sleep and how not to gain the freshman 15, and ultimately had clear hard topics to cover while also having more interesting and fun ones as well.
“Writing about consent in a way that we can make sure that everybody who reads this understands that it’s not about somebody’s fault for drinking too much, it’s about our entire collective responsibility for making sure that when we are with our friends that we have got an eye on what is going on,” Dave says.
“The only way that we can make tangible progress on some of these complicated issues is if the conversation is upfront. If we’re all using the same vocabulary and if we all understand that it is on us, the burden to make sure that these things that are very tragic, they don’t have to be as prevalent as they are.”
On the flip side, Jill “loved to write about sleep and activity hacks,” having her background be in the physical and health education sphere.
“Sleep was one of the areas that I was really surprised about a lot of what we learned,” Jill says. “I think you take sleep for granted that if you just get eight hours a night it sort of works and you just let that guide you and try and keep that uncomplicated.”
Jill found that there is much more to sleep than just getting eight hours of shut eye.
Overall, the couple hopes that anyone who reads the book feels “no judgment.”
“We are trying to give people the information out and can hatch from it,” Jill says.
“You can take whatever you see in here at whatever point in your life. That was what I was really excited about because that is not part of the pop narrative, is ‘how do you sleep and what do you need to know about sleep to make sure that you are doing it in a healthy way?’”
Five months into the release of their book and the couple is hopeful to be able to create other additions to the guide.
“Definitely our plan is to keep updating those quotes, because we want to include a larger diversity of voices and represent more schools,” Jill says.
“There’s always new content we want to add. Even since this came out we’ve had people reach out to us and been like have you thought about adding this and this. We are keeping the running list so that hopefully if we get the opportunity to release another edition, we can just keep adding it — fingers crossed.”
To learn more about the Henrys or to purchase the book, go to greatestcollegehealthguide.com. CT