By Annie Rhoades
Traveling around the world specializing in exercise physiology and wellness with the federal government, alumna Rhea Daniels (MS 99) never imagined she would one day serve as the well-being services manager for the Coca-Cola Company headquartered in Atlanta.
“I had absolutely no idea I would end up where I am,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t something I planned. I knew I wanted to help people, and I kind of let the stars align and guide me on this journey. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased with the opportunities I’ve been presented.”
Raised in Clarksville, Tenn., Daniels graduated from Clarksville High School in 1991 with her mind set on attending nearby Tennessee State University in Nashville.
“When I went to college I had already made the decision that I wanted to be a doctor – that I wanted to help people,” Daniels said. “While I was at TSU I had the opportunity to go to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for a summer internship and met all different types of physicians and physicians’ assistants. We had one visitor in particular give a presentation that was a public health educator and exercise physiologist. And what he was about really resonated with me. The basic premise was to help people to be well and have a higher quality of life for a longer period of time as opposed to just dealing with it once they become ill. That made a lot of sense to me.”
After returning from her internship Daniels decided to forego medical school and instead pursue an advanced degree in exercise physiology, wellness and health promotion. And Ole Miss had just the program she was looking for.
“I chose Ole Miss for a myriad of reasons,” Daniels said. “I guess a major point for me was it was a diverse university and community. I felt like that was important for me to really be able to develop and hone in on my own people skills. The other reason I chose Ole Miss was because one of my mentors Dr. Len Kravitz, who I met previously at an American College of Sports Medicine conference, had started teaching there. So it was kind of like fate.”
After receiving a master of science degree in 1999, Daniels accepted a job with the federal government in Las Vegas at a test site helping employees ranging from medical professionals to fire fighters and security personnel stay in shape physically in order to do their job to the best of their ability.
“I was there for a year and a half then started going to American College of Sports Medicine conferences and met all kinds of different people,” Daniels said. “Each conference I went to people would offer me different promotional opportunities, so I was able to get promotions within the government.”
Those promotions led Daniels to a variety of jobs across the country with the federal government serving as exercise physiologist for the U.S. Air Force, installation health promotion manager for the U.S. Department of Defense, employee wellness director and chief exercise physiologist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and eventually a three-year stint in Yokosuka, Japan, as health and wellness program manager for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“My time in Japan was awesome,” said Daniels. “It’s super clean and safe. The hardest part was the language barrier because Japan is 99.9% Japanese, but I had a great time.”
However after receiving news her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s and performing strenuous relief work during the devastating tsunami in 2011, Daniels was eager to return to the U.S.
“I wanted to be close to my family,” Daniels said. “And during the tsunami I stayed behind to work with the hospital staff doing relief work. I was obviously not necessarily mentally prepared to do that, but we figured it out. It was a lot.”
In 2013 Daniels transferred to Brunswick, Ga., to physically train law enforcement personnel at the federal law enforcement training center. Little did she know a recruiter viewing her online LinkedIn profile was itching to steal her away to Atlanta.
“The recruiter told me that Coca-Cola was working on revamping their wellness and well-being program and thought I would be a great candidate,” said Daniels. “After several interviews I decided it would be a great opportunity to work for the number one brand on the planet. Everyone knows Coca-Cola – it’s universal.”
Since accepting the position of well-being services manager in 2014, Daniels has successfully revamped the company’s wellness program including total renovation of the employee fitness center and onsite medical clinic, along with installing an onsite employee pharmacy.
“I enjoy watching people have the light go off in their own mind that they do have some control over how they feel emotionally, physically or just their health in general,” Daniels said. “It’s empowering people with information that they can change what’s going on presently, and just be better. My personal mantra is I’m here to help people.”