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Freeze column: Back to elementary school

I visited Woodleaf Elementary recently to talk fitness, health and to do a little running.
Tammy Daugherty is the physical education teacher for Woodleaf, and she asked me to come and do a clinic for her third, fourth and fifth grade classes. It is the kind of talk that I enjoy doing, and the unpredictability of kids makes every visit interesting and different.
There have been other things that I have done at Woodleaf Elementary. Principal Sue Herrington is one of my favorites, and she makes it fun to go there and do things for the school. Tammy’s husband, Randy, used to be on one of my many softball teams. There have been almost as many softball teams as there are ex-wives and girlfriends.
My visit with each class started with a serious talk about childhood obesity, life expectancy, danger of fast food meals and preferable choices for eating.
At least one in three students are overweight or obese these days. I asked lots of questions and answered a few. The kids surprised me with their knowledge of some important facts. In the fifth grade, Michael Walls knew that there are 3,500 calories in a pound, and Koran Coleman knew that bananas provide potassium. Nick Hepler knew that the apple has lots of nutrients, including vitamins A and C.
On the flip side of this knowledge was the alarming show of hands by kids who couldn’t remember the last time they had a banana or an apple. Many also said that once school was over and they had free time, when given a choice they wouldn’t spend time outside. Video games, computers and TV time were the favorites of many.
I told the kids that for the first time, their generation’s life expectancy is shorter than their parent’s. I asked why. Fourth-grader Ben Suggs knew that part of the problem was less desire to exercise, and Priscilla Fitzgerald said kids were making poor food choices. We talked about replacing soda drinks with water, and Cody Shaw asked “How much water per day do we need to be properly hydrated?” The fourth grade was the most attentive, and I got some great questions. Jennifer De la Cruz asked me who my favorite runner is. I told her that the best American runner and my favorite was Bill Rodgers, and Jennifer responded that she would go home and Google him. Good answer.
My message to all the classes was this: “Just get moving!”
One of my favorite slogans is, “Moving is improving.”
We talked about ways to do this. I asked them to decide to get healthy, and to eat something good for them. Ashley Perrell from the third-grade class knew that some kids could eat a lot of food that isn’t good for them, and they might get away with it now. But later, as the body changes with age, bad food habits would likely catch up with them. All of the students heard about the poor nutritional values of most fast food meals.
All the classes went outside following their wellness talk. All got to warm up with a nationally certified “Jumping Jacks Coach.” They learned jumping jacks techniques only known to most qualified professionals. I got that national certification while working at the Y, and used it often in after school running classes. Now 200 kids know how to do “backwards” jumping jacks. Each student got to run with me at a relaxed pace for about 2 minutes. We broke it up into nine classrooms, one at a time. About 20 percent of the kids did fairly well, but most couldn’t run for two minutes continually.
Before each grade session ended, we talked of making small changes to improve health. The students knew that our weather is great now for exercising. One fourth grader told me that her dad asked her to run 10 times around their house each afternoon. He encouraged her to play soccer. She just happened to have the easiest time running with me, and wasn’t out of breath after two minutes.
I asked each student to decide to get fit, to make good choices, and to make small changes on the way to good health. There is a great quote: “If what you are doing won’t make a difference in five years, it probably doesn’t matter as much as something that will.”
I hope we made a difference for some of these kids. Thanks to Tammy Daugherty, Kim Nance, Dr. William Robertson and Sue Herrington for having me.

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