Clinical Exercise Physiologist Karen Owoc talks Healthy Living and Resilience

karen owoc physiologist podcast podcasting resilience resilient Jul 18, 2022

Karen Owoc, ACSM-CEP, ACSM-CET is a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center and works privately as a medical fitness trainer and plant-based nutrition consultant. She is also a guest speaker on lifestyle medicine and has been the weekly TV health expert on KRON 4 News in San Francisco for the past 4-1/2 years, speaking on all aspects of healthy living in over 200 television interviews.

(The following text has been transcribed)

All right. We're back. And I am super excited today because this is like fortuitous timing with today's guest. And we've just had an amazing conversation even before I clicked the go live button. But where are we? This is Kim talks resilience. And I am your host, Kim Heater. And I am super, super excited that you are taking the time, which I know is so incredibly valuable to share. With me and our guests today. You know, here Kim talks resilience. We share stories and insight and inspiration in life, love and business. With resilient women from around the world. But before we get there, I want everybody to know I got a store. So if you get a chance, do check out being sponsored today by WW Dot Queen of Resilience, Dot Shop, Queen of Resilience. That shop is an online store with a bit of sass. A lot of fun. So straighten your crown and shop around at the Queen of Resilience Shop. That was a good commercial. So today, Karen and I are going to Butcher because she's got so many letters behind her name. So we're going to try. We're going to try and do this. Karen is an AC s m dash c ep an ac s m dash CEO. And this is a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center and works privately as a medical fitness trainer and plant based nutrition consultant. She is also a guest speaker on lifestyle medicine and has been a weekly TV health expert on KIRO, RN, KRON, four news in San Francisco for the past four and a half years. So speaking on all aspects of healthy living in over 200 television areas certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, Karen focuses on the fascinating findings of human longevity and the centenarian. I think of it as a sentence and.




Centenarian lifestyle. Thank you, Gary. Because of her love for sports and family history of early onset heart disease and stroke. Karen focuses on. Yeah, okay. This is awesome. So this is so fortuitous. Karen focused on a career path where food and exercise are used to treat, manage and prevent disease. She just released her first book and this is How We Met on functional longevity athletes in aprons the nutrition playbook to Break 100. I am super excited. Those of you who have been following Kim talks and any of my social media knows that I personally had a really big scare a couple of weeks ago. My mother had a stroke, so if anyone watches this, which I know so very well, I am so grateful, Karen, for your time because you are exactly the person that I need to speak to right now. So let's just dive in first with who are you? Can we get a little bit of the origin story and why this is important?


So you pretty much went through my history there bio there. I am a Californian. I was born and raised in California. I was always very involved in sports, competing in sports, just loving every every aspect of sports. And, so when it's time to go to college, I was thinking about sports medicine, sports therapy, physical therapy. And I actually was on that track to be a physical therapist. But I realized in physical therapy, you focus on just one area of the body. You have one area that's impaired and I wanted to work on the whole body. So that means the mind, the body, the spirit, everything. So that's how I ended up on the cardiopulmonary track and stayed involved in sports and have two children. Well, three now and can constantly talk about food and exercise and try not to preach but just try to pass on what I know.


Absolutely. Not preaching or being perceived as preaching is very hard, especially in a world in the United States. Everything is so consumed with food. Every time you turn on TV, every time you listen to the radio, every time you drive past something. And the reality is, I think 80%, if not greater of what we're facing every day is not a healthy choice. Right?


Oh, right, right.


So Americans are conditioned. I mean, I am coming from Calgary, and I don't know if it's just half the trucks that don't make it to Canada. I go to the grocery store and it's like, oh my God, look, they got this. They get that and they get this and, and, and, and just the, the amount of prepackaged stuff is crazy at the grocery store. So, so when. Okay, so we know what you do. Was there ever something within your childhood? Was there anybody you ever knew that you go, oh, if they did this or if I could help them with that, was there somebody that kind of tripped that trigger for you when you were younger?


There are a lot of things that kind of happened along the way. But early, early on, which is in college, I was competing and I was a competitive skier and I was tired all the time. I couldn't, I was healthy, you know, young, healthy, and I couldn't believe how tired I was. And I knew it wasn't because I was anemic all that was rolled out. And so one of my two of my coaches at the time, they were vegetarians. And I said and they said, hey, why don't you kind of shift your lifestyle a little bit? And actually, I tried it. I was in college studying nutrition physiology and all that. And it just all made sense. And it was really unbelievable how much better I felt and just just feeding the body well as well as so it's not all about exercise. It's about feeding the body. And, and, and that will have a tremendous effect on how we feel. So I also have, like you mentioned, early onset heart disease and stroke in our family, meaning, you know, in the forties, you know, uncles and aunts who were in their forties having strokes and heart attacks. So I knew that, you know, my genes were going to probably point me in that direction. So I needed to figure out a way to bypass that. And so that was also it's all about, you know, how I felt. I was competing in how my family history kind of pointed me in the direction that I'm in now.


Absolutely. And I think what most people need to really understand is that genetics is a key component. Also, my mother's partner, Bill, is like my stepdad, they've been together forever and he is the man who is 83 years old. It is a fiddle, crazy that is a fiddle. However, he has genetic high cholesterol and has had like three triple bypasses and not not we're not talking this guy probably honestly not an inch of fat on it. Like it's crazy and you know, it's so genetics is absolutely a component to it. But you know, it can all be balanced to the best of your ability.


Right. That's absolutely right. We kind of sometimes use genetics as an excuse.


A scapegoat. Yeah.


Etc. There's so much strength in the way we eat because if you really delve deeper into what you are eating and what you are not eating, that will be very telling.


Well, and you hear the comments of the colors of the rainbow. Right. And I know in the Midwest where I grew up, like biscuits and gravy, and these are still like these are standard kind of breakfast or 3 a.m. if you've been out with your friends there and and when you actually think about it, biscuits and gravy is all a shade of beige.




Right. It's all a shade of beige. So we, we, we now kind of get a grasp as to who you are. Now, you say skin was that water, feet of snow skin.


That was snow skiing. Freestyle mostly.


So where did you go?


I was at Squaw Valley.


Okay. Very cool. Very cool.


Olympic Valley, which is now called something else.


Have you ever come to Canada before?


No, I haven't. Oh.


Well, my door's open if you guys want to do a ski trip, you come up, you'll see.


Oh, my gosh, you tipple.


It's beautiful in Canada. I'd love to have you. So let's move on. We know who you are and come that that you know, you were blessed to live in a great climate and to have, you know, be an active individual. But you also knew what was staring you down, you know, was the genetic component. So share with us a little bit how you do what you do. Like, why that specific why this lane that you've chosen.


So another thing that happened to me when I was pregnant with my first child, my mom's first child grandchild and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer one month before I was to deliver it. It was really crushing when that happened because they were so excited to be grandparents. And my mom still remembers her. She had a whole menu planned out of what she was going to make, you know, after the baby was born and how she was going to help, you know, and be there for me. And she couldn't do that. And then five months later, she went through treatment. Five years later, she had surgery. But there was nothing they could do. At that point. So they gave her three months to live at that point. And I was so upset by that. I was so upset that he would tell her that and that there was just no hope. I mean, it was just saying, you're going to die, and that's that's it. What I did was I researched the Moriyama vaccine that was in Japan, and I was able to get it in, inject her with the vaccine throughout the day. And that just gave us whether it was just water, whether it was sailing, it just gave us a little bit of hope. And without that little sliver of hope, it would have been devastating. To live each day. I mean, just waiting. I took down all the calendars because I didn't want her to count the days and having just that little bit of hope was what everybody needs. And so in my job then, I mean, that's what I, I try to do. That's my mission. And to give people that little bit of hope because we all have the capacity. And that's what my book is, that we all have the capacity to control how well we feel and how fast we age and how functional we're going to be in our 8090s and beyond. And that is, that was the most Life-Changing you know for me because after she died I couldn't even read anything, any articles on health. It was so depressing to me and because I was seeing my life kind of, you know, ending that way also. And so I'd created this blog, my website, because I said, I want to bring out information that was very positive, that was very science based but also had a, a, a glimmer of hope and gave people some shot of optimism at the end. And that's what I do even with MICRONS segments and in everything I do. So in a nutshell, that's what I want to promote education as well as spread some hope to people.


Absolutely. And moms are so important. I'm so sorry about it.




Your mom because I personally can't even fathom a world without my mother. And, you know, and I think I think I think every person who watches this, every person out there knows one person that they would like to live that person to live a little bit healthier so they can live a little bit longer Right. Right.




So when we look at it, share with us a little bit then because as we were talking before, a lot of what we eat is based on emotions that, you know, be it positive, negative triggers, coping and whatever. Can you share with us first like kind of your whole journey in and how you you pro-EU process because you have to process all this in order to be able to figure out how to help others find the solutions because each person we're all human, we're all different. So share this a little bit about what you do and how you process in order to help others be able to to move forward.


So there really wouldn't be an obesity problem if we are all eight when we're hungry, it's because we eat when we are emotionally deprived or where there's something driving us to want to eat. It's that emotional eating cycle very different from physiological hunger where you're eating your anything will do when you're really physiologically hungry. And then when you're full, you stop. But with emotion or hunger, you're eating to fulfill something. And that drive to eat, it's very sudden. Maybe you're just stressed at the time. So you want and and usually there's some specific craving. So. So what I tell our patients is that first you need to recognize you're doing it. A lot of people even recognize that they're eating emotionally. They just tell me I can't resist sugar. You know, that's my problem. Well, you know, when is it that you are what you are craving sugar? So create this diary of your cravings. What are you doing? Where are you at the time that you're having these cravings? Sometimes sitting on the sofa, turning on the TV. That's a trigger to, hey.


Oh, absolutely.


It's ingrained in this. So first visit, figuring out what it is, and that can be very illuminating. Eating to see, oh, you know, I'm eating at a stress. You know, whenever I'm angry, I'm eating or when I'm lonely and that's when I'm wanting sugar. And then and then once they figure that out and then if it's out of and out of stress, then kind of come up with another way to cope with stress, whether it's meditation, whether it's exercise, but start chipping away at finding another way to cope. Other than food with food. And if it's going to take time you know, that's that's the thing is this doesn't happen overnight because these are habits that are ingrained in us. And this is where a lot of people feel bad about themselves. You know, they say, I'm so weak, I can't stop eating the sugar. I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't. And this is where I say, you know, the brain works in mysterious ways. You know, it forms habits so it doesn't have to work as hard. So like brushing your teeth, remember, when you first learn to brush your teeth, you know that or learn to drive a car. All those little details are now second nature. They're a habit. So your brain doesn't have to work as hard. So when you have these ingrained habits and when you are tired, when you are feeling a little weak, invulnerable, your brain will want to go back to those habits that are the ones that you've had the longest and the most established. So it doesn't always want to go to those new habits of eating better. It's less to go back to the ones that you are accustomed to and have been doing for years and years and years. So like your mother, you know, she may have trouble breaking some of those habits that she's had for all these years.


Yeah. And I think sometimes and I know that pain, I guess not too long ago she herself was actually born with hip dysplasia. And so she and she was a surgeon the urologist out of Australia. And she said to me she didn't realize how much of her brain was being consumed by chronic pain.




That was a very fascinating comment because, I mean, as soon as she saw me I guess I qualify that she didn't realize how much of her brain was being consumed by chronic pain because she had just had a full hip reconstruction, which actually alleviated a lot of that pain. And now she was able to process at a totally different level. So when you're working on chronic habits, B, you may be dealing with chronic pain and see sometimes something just has to be easy. And I think that's that's the cycle. Right? So here's my question. I am not a nutritionist and I need to put this up there, nor do I play one on TV. I just know that hummus is probably a better snack than a potato chip. Just say it better. Bad choices. So this is what I was trying to wrap my head around. So I know that, you know, if somebody is trying to wean off of, let's say, soda pop, right? So they're on a cola and you know what? I drink tons of hot tea, but I don't drink green tea. I drink black tea with a bit of milk and typically some sort of sweetener or a vanilla of some sort. Not tons, but I know, you know, I probably don't need to be putting all that sugar in me, but I'm thinking better, bad choices. So if you're coming off of soda pop and we know this is your coping mechanism, what is a good in turn, we mean alternative.


So first of all, I don't like to use the word bad, bad, good choices because of the whole emotional eating cycle. Negative. You feel, you know, you eat, you feel bad, so you eat and then you eat whatever it is you're craving and so usually not healthy. Then you feel bad. You feel bad about yourself, which starts you back into that cycle again because you feel bad about yourself. So you're going to eat some more and you just get stuck. So any words that are negative, like bad food typically we say is not bad unless it physically makes you sick. So I also like to be more inclusive when it comes to food. You know, how else could we add to your diet versus focusing on what we're going to take away?




When you think about, okay, I take this away, you know, it just feels like it doesn't it makes it doesn't feel good. So that is what we're going to add to your diet. And actually, I don't even usually use the word diet. Typically, it's more like an eating plan because diets actually end in this. You might want to be a little careful too, with your mom that, you know, diets are pretty much temporary. They give you this temporary solution to whatever it is, weight loss or disease. So it's an eating plan. It's a lifetime eating plan. And so for your mother, I would suggest some fruit infused water trying to get back to just hydrating with water. That would be the healthiest thing. So have you seen those few in the fruit infuser where you have a pitcher and then you put the fruit? That would be something that would kind of increase the taste and be something very refreshing for your mother. So here's the thing, too. And when I ever explain this, people say they'll think twice about drinking or eating a lot of sugar. So sugar binds with proteins and the most abundant protein in your body is collagen. So it is so when those two bind together, it causes the collagen to get very stiff. And when you have stiffness, that's when you get the wrinkles. Your skin's not really nice and flexible anymore, but there's collagen in your heart, in your arteries, in your brain, in your joints, everything. So when that becomes very stiffened, it causes blood pressure to go up because your arteries can't contract and expand and contract like they used to. Your heart's the same way. Your joints get stiff, your body gets stiff, everything affects everything. So if you lived on a diet with lots of sugar, it's not surprising that down the road you're going to have a lot of these problems.


Absolutely. Absolutely. I never even put two and two together. Like I said, I am not a nutritionist.


But I do explain that all in the book, sell my book. So, yes, I put in a lot of the foundational science in the beginning, and it's a light read. It's kind of spoken in sports speak. So it's a very friendly book to read. Most of my patients are actually men who don't like to read nutrition books. It's usually the wife that will read it and give it to them. Oh, we.


Have to be close to an instructional man.


Yeah, I know.


I don't read those.


So I purposely wrote it in a way that would appeal to the middle aged man and where the greatest compliment I get is when men text me or call me and say, I can't put your book down or I love I love your book. And that's the biggest compliment when a man who typically doesn't read this kind of stuff says that.


Awesome, awesome. So you decided to write this book. And so in this book, can you share with us a little bit more about your book and your journey of writing the book?


So the journey, it took five years to write the book and I wrote it because, you know, in my work, I see and I've seen so many transformations just from changing the diet, adding exercise. And everyone has that capacity And so usually when people meet me, they are at that stage where they have heart failure. They just had open heart surgery. They've had to dance when they have severe COPD. And I wanted to be able to grab their attention before that. So they're not suffering and they're not having these severe problems. So that was kind of the reason I wanted to write the book and explain there's so much to explain that I needed to be able to put it in a book form, in a friendly reader friendly book form.


Reader friendly book form. Yeah. As long as it doesn't come with something you have to assemble, that's good because, you know, we got a man, right? We don't want to tax them. But I'm thinking like even my husband, the interesting part is portioning. So he'll reach into the bag. So we don't eat out a lot because everybody complains the food's not as good as what I can make.


I love a good cook. Yeah.


I love to cook. And, you know, I yeah. So we just have never been big eaters out or so we're very, very fortunate that way because we don't get a lot of added salt. That's right. But one thing that we do have is we always have things like dried fruits and nuts and, you know, shaved coconut. We always have those kinds of mixes around I notice though, because my husband is older, he's 63 and he's put weight on over the last probably ten years that when he reaches in he's also six foot two. So imagine the size of his hand.


His handful is a lot different for.


Exactly. So one day I sat there and I went, you know what? He reached in and grabbed and I said, hold on one moment. And I said, can you put that in a bowl for me? Put it in the bowl? And then I measured it and I said, You're actually eating two servings every time you take a handful. And he goes, Well, it's a serving. I measured out. And I said, and this. And then I put it back in his hand. I said, This is a serving and he goes, Oh, okay. But I literally had to feel it and see it. Yeah. Hand to know what that serving was and to know how many calories, how much fat, you know, any of those things too. There is some sodium because of the nuts and things like that. To know what he said. I think that's the biggest challenge. Is truly knowing what we are consuming.


Right, right, right. And what I like to focus on is more of the water rich foods versus the dense dry foods. Yeah, the water rich foods. You're going to get a lot more volume. It's going to fill you up faster just like a little, little bit of, you know, a quarter cup of raisins versus a whole cup of great. Right. So much more out of it. And it's also less calorie dense, too. So nuts. They're healthy, but they're also more dense. So those kinds of things, you do have to be a little bit more mindful of how much you're eating.


Absolutely. Well, I felt like one of the best snacks. So like that we were just 24 hours down, I said, okay, this is what we're doing. We're going to drive down and we're only going to get our tea or coffee up at the gas stations. We're not buying anything and I packed the entire trip with us. Little travel fridges are so adorable. And there are the little hummus cups. I love those little portable hummus cups. Yeah. And we had rice crackers, we had bell peppers, all the shades of bell peppers. Got bell peppers.


Oh, yeah.


The red ones are nice and sweet. And he said they're going because everything was precut, because we did this trip with intention. We got down here and, you know, you don't have an upset stomach. You're not, you know.


Groggy and.


Exactly and you actually feel good, right? For two days because we're in a very controlled environment. Either, A, we can control it or B, we can go in just like flying by the seat of our pants. And yeah, it was amazing. But yeah, bell peppers, I think are like an unsung hero. I think bell peppers are actually. And they're so sweet. The red ones are so.


Yeah. Of the red ones and they're so full of vitamin C, so yes, and a lot of people think when they think vitamin C, they're thinking orange. But Vitamin C, the bell peppers have so much more vitamin C, so that's a great snack. Yeah.


Yeah, that's one of our faiths. So share with me. So we've talked about your book. First of all, where can we get your book? Is it on Amazon or on your website? Where can we get your book?


It is on Amazon.


Oh, that is awesome. Great artwork. Who did your.


Artwork? I had like a graphic designer and he had a 3D illustrator put this all together and they're really good and then there's a picture of my dad on the back and me and the recipe. I do have some recipes that tie in with the concept that I talk about. But in my book there are some cartoons. So I also bring humor into it. And then I have these little coat notes that I put on the sides to kind of emphasize a point or, or some of my tips that I have. So it's, like I said, it's a friendly, friendly read.


My amazing, amazing so share a type of resilience. And I'm guessing you're probably your greatest challenge to resilience is what you've already shared with us, but you share this time of resilience where you could have just literally thrown up your hands to say done.


Oh, oh, yeah. I mean, even going back to my skiing days because I really was working hard to make the national team and training everything all day and not making it. I mean, I finally eventually did. But when everybody else made the team then I didn't. That was really devastating to me. But I just kept trying and I just was determined to eventually make the team but I think that that just kind of helped set the tone for my whole life. How hard because I was involved in a lot of team sports, but having to work in an individual sport was really tough. I mean, it was all on me. I couldn't depend on anyone else to help or blame anyone else. If I didn't do well, it was all on me. And that really helped me get stronger emotionally because every challenge that I came upon in my life, emotional family, personal it, I would pull from that strength thing. I know I can do it. There are some things that we had to do in training that I, you know, jumping off cliffs I never thought I could do. And I pulled from that. I said I thought I would never be able to do that. But I did. So I know I have the capacity. It's just being able to pull that out of ourselves. So whenever I'd get down and feel bad, I said Okay, I can lift myself up. One of the other things that happened after my mom passed away, my brother passed away and he had a heart attack at age 35. So he had the gene, but he also did not manage his lifestyle very well. You know, he was in the food and beverage business. And so he is eating and drinking and, and not exercising enough on the road a lot. And when he had his after he had the heart attack and he had a quadruple bypass and here I am in my field, I couldn't help them. And it was very frustrating for me that I could not help my brother. But that just made me realize that you can have all the tools, but it comes from the person. The person has to be ready and has to be willing. And it doesn't always happen. He chose this. You could choose that route, route of rehab or you can choose that path of least resistance, which is this is the life I was given. So this is the way I want to live it. So he passed away with heart failure. And diabetes. So I and even in my I you know, I had to kind of recover from that because I didn't have my family. I had my dad, you know, it's just me left and having to come up from above that. But I really saw my dad who I can't imagine losing a child now, it's just yeah. Now he just lost his wife and then he lost his child. So I think it was even more devastating for him than me. But again, having to pull from those resources okay, we can overcome this because my dad always had this attitude of, you know, things happen for a reason. And I know we've heard this over and over, but he really emphasized that when I was growing up and his childhood was difficult and and and it kind of trained me to say, okay, you know, this happened for a reason. Something good is going to come out of this. And this is my, my other reason for you know, really pushing, having that little bit of hope and optimism and and things work out. Things do work out. It doesn't always happen right away, but it eventually does.


Absolutely. And they say nothing worthwhile comes easy.




Right. So speaking of quotes, what is that quote that speaks to you? There's an even more stark quote.


So this is from Koby Yamada. And his quote is Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down. And that has kept me going all through, you know, having started my own businesses on the side and and and I love this quote because oftentimes we are paralyzed by our over analysis of, okay, I have everything has to be perfect. I'm a perfectionist. I try not to be, but I am. So this quote really breaks me out of that. That takes a risk and nothing's going to be perfect on the way on at the get go. But you have to build it. And it will happen after, you know, you kind of just start it, just get going.


And sometimes you don't know exactly what you need to build until you start it.


You're exactly right. Yeah. And I know, you know.


Absolutely. Absolutely. Like I said, nothing worthwhile in this life comes easy. And there's a reason why we have the phrase growing pains. You got to be a little uncomfortable in order to have the best results.


Right. Breaking out of your comfort zone. Absolutely. Yeah.


Yeah. Where can people find you and engage with you and just bathe within your amazing information?


So on my website, it is Karen It's oh w o see, and that my contact information is all there. Also on Instagram, my handle is Karen. Okay. So o w o see, I spell it because even my relatives after all these years still spell raw oh wait a minute. So and then I'm on Facebook, but I, I put, I'm starting to put a lot more content. I just kind of really did a whole new makeover on my Instagram and I'm really having fun with it, so.


Oh, fun. Yeah. Yeah. Showing, showing that inspiration of, of vision. And they were such a visual society. So again, I thank you. And like I said, this is like, I mean, we booked this a while back and, and the reality is, I couldn't have thought of a better person to talk to today, as I call you from Kansas. And, and thank you. I, you know, thank you for all that you do because although it's not your brother, you were able to help. But you may be able to help somebody else's brother. And I think that is an amazing superpower. So thank you.


Thank you.


All right. Do you know what? Folks, I am blown away here. Super, super inspired and excited. And I hope you enjoyed today's talk with Karen. Karen is absolutely a wealth of information and inspiration. Next time you feel your resiliency lagging. Be sure to listen in and lean into our resilient community. Join me and always have amazing voices that you hear. All these amazing, insightful women. Join us, Bri, at resilient gift dot com and you can get monthly magazines you can get all sorts of stuff. It's all free. I just want you to live the most resilient and robust life that you can live. And if you've got a story of resilience that you'd like to share to a larger audience, Demi over on Instagram at Resilience Series, and I'd love to help you share that story. This is where we celebrate and showcase female founders, coaches, entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, and those who inspire or aspire to be any and all of the above. Until next time. I'm your host Kim Hayden here at Kim Talks Resilience bye for now.

Karen Owoc, ACSM-CEP, ACSM-CET is a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center and works privately as a medical fitness trainer and plant-based nutrition consultant. She is also a guest speaker on lifestyle medicine and has been the weekly TV health expert on KRON 4 News in San Francisco for the past 4-1/2 years, speaking on all aspects of healthy living in over 200 television interviews. Certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, Karen focuses on the fascinating findings of human longevity and the centenarian lifestyle.

Because of her love for sports and family history of early-onset heart disease and stroke, Karen focused on a career path where food and exercise are used to treat, manage, and prevent disease. She just released her first book on functional longevity, “Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100”.


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