By Danielle Filjon
In sunny Loma Linda, California, there is a community of people who live a decade longer than the average American. Maiya Mahoney, a student at Flagler College, is investigating the cause of this phenomenon on behalf of the Pulitzer Center.
Mahoney, a senior at Flagler College, majoring in journalism with minors in graphic design and international studies, completed the Pulitzer scholarship course offered in Flagler and was able to travel to Loma Linda, Calif., During the summer for his project titled “The Secret of Longevity: Loma Linda”, and gain valuable experience as a journalist while doing it.
Mahoney focuses on what is called a “blue zone” in Loma Linda, California, made up of Seventh-day Adventists, and the correlation between their spirituality and their long lifespan.
“Blue zones are basically areas of the world, where people are living longer and healthier lives,” Mahoney said. “There are five blue zones in the world, and Loma Linda’s blue zone is the only one in the United States”
Many of these blue zones have residents who live well beyond 100, and the medical community attributes this to healthier lifestyles such as diet. However, Mahoney discovered that the people of Loma Linda had a more spiritual reason for their long life.
“What was different about Loma Linda was that their longevity had a lot to do with their religion,” Mahoney said. “A lot of my studies have shown that religion can affect longevity.”
Mahoney’s project highlights a group of Seventh-day Adventists in the Loma Linda Blue Zone, and how their spirituality is linked to their longevity. Mahoney traveled to California and spoke with members of that community, and understood how and why they live so long.
“For a lot of us, we think of health as how we look or what we eat, but it’s so much more than that,” Mahoney said. “It’s also our spiritual, mental and psychological well-being, so the articles I’ve written have talked about it.”
Mahoney says she was inspired to cover the Blue Zones by the Netflix show, “Down To Earth with Zac Efron,” in an episode where Efron travels to a Blue Zone in Sardinia, Italy.
“My initial story idea was to go to Italy and study longevity in Sardinia, but due to COVID restrictions I had to consider other options, luckily Loma Linda was a blue zone in California,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney was in the Pulitzer class with about 15 other students in the spring semester of 2021. Each student submitted a story idea of an underreported problem around the world and a budget in the hope of securing a grant from. $ 3,000 to produce the story on behalf of the Pulitzer Center.
Mahoney’s pitch won the grant money and she was awarded a Pulitzer affiliate mentor.
“Emily Baumgartner who writes for the LA Times was my mentor,” Mahoney said. “She helped me find sources and assured me that whenever I ran into roadblocks it was great to hear the statement from someone writing for such a well-known publication.”
Mahoney says that by working with the Pulitzer Center, she feels better prepared for fieldwork as a reporter.
“Thanks to the Pulitzer Center, I had a lot of networking opportunities and was able to speak with other reporters,” said Mahoney. “Seeing it all come together and writing articles that I’m really proud of, doing all this research for something that I wasn’t sure would happen, then I got it and was able to post it on Pulitzer’s website has been truly rewarding and makes me excited for future journalism trips.
Mahoney’s advice to any student pursuing a Pulitzer scholarship is to ‘be open and flexible, don’t go into your story thinking it’s going to turn out a certain way, you really don’t know which way it might go, so be open to change, ”she said,“ write down what you are passionate about and your hard work will pay off ”.
The Pulitzer Fellowship not only gave Mahoney valuable experience as a journalist, but also gave him confidence to pursue new story ideas.
“My mentor, Emily, told me that I have the mind of a journalist and that I can really be successful, hearing that from someone who is a well-known journalist in a prestigious publication was really reassuring,” he said. Mahoney said. “After this project, I’m already thinking of new pitches that I could do and that would allow me to travel. “
Follow the links below to learn more about Mahoney’s project:
Maiya Mahoney | Pulitzer Center
The Secret of Longevity: Loma Linda | Pulitzer Center
“I Breathe Loma Linda”: How Adventists in Southern California Live Longer | Pulitzer Center
“Make a whole person”: body, mind and spirit | Pulitzer Center