Sarah Hughes: World Fit in New York City

Sarah Huges - Figure skating 2002Sarah Hughes
Olympian, Figure skating 2002

New York City is home to many things, one of them being yellow taxi cabs. But this morning, as my mom and I prepared to make the eight-mile trip downtown, the pouring rain meant we couldn’t find one for 20 minutes. They were all occupied. Finally, after getting an empty one, it took us an hour to make those eight miles. So in effect, we learned the first lesson of the day before stepping into P.S. 276, the Battery Park City School I was visiting on behalf of the World Fit program: cars aren’t always faster than your own two feet!

The goal of the World Fit program is to eradicate childhood obesity through sharing – and showing — the importance of staying fit for life by example and experience using the Olympic ideals.

My visit to P.S. 276 was not only to explain how the World Fit program works to the three 6th grade classes who are embarking on the journey, but also to encourage them. We all know it’s important to exercise and eat right, but sometimes we all need a little inspiration and motivation!

World Fit was started by Gary Hall Sr. and Gary Hall Jr., a father-son duo who each won medals in swimming in the Olympics. The program operates alongside the same ideals the Olympics are founded on: friendship, mentorship, respect, integrity and responsibility. Each hour of walking the sixth graders log in the next few weeks will be equal to one point. Other types of exercise, such as various sports and running, also count. The kids log in their exercise, a school supervisor signs off on it, and the point totals are added.

Now here’s where the friendship and mentorship come in. Each sixth grader will be paired with a first grade “buddy” in the school who they will mentor and walk with. Each participant will encourage the other. Each of the sixth graders can also have their friends, family and people in their communities join on their team too. Everyone on their team will earn points as they exercise, although their points are only worth half of the sixth graders. When I was explaining this part, hands shot up immediately.

“Does my friend have to live in this state to be on my team?” one asked, thinking of all the people he could encourage to join in his efforts. “Nope.” That’s right, their long-distance friends can join in on the fun. The more the merrier!

“Is there a limit to the number of people we can have on our team?” another asked as a follow up. “Nope!”

Everyone you know can be part of it. Walk with you. Play tennis with you. Handball. Soccer. You name it. You discuss it with your friends, you talk about it, they log it, it all counts.

The camaraderie athletics encourages is one of my favorite things about organized sports. You make friends, you form bonds, and you can all be together while being physically active in a friendly atmosphere.

Since it was raining we couldn’t walk outside. Instead we climbed the stairs and got a workout while simultaneously getting a tour of the school. This is the first year of classes at P.S. 276 and it is a beautiful, new school. Any time is a good time to improve your health, but learning the right way from the beginning is the best. And this is what we did today.

We assembled back in the auditorium after our stair-climbing kick-off and talked about what we liked most about school and sports. Everyone was in a good mood after the rush of endopmorphins!

One of the things the kids were most enthusiastic about was the friendly rivalry with a neighboring school who would be competing against them in their World Fit journey. One boy asked a question about the Olympics, and I explained that even though it is only held once every two years, it is a special event since each athlete represents a country. Therefore, the participants don’t just represent themselves, they represent their nation. And at the end of this Olympic friendly rivalry, countries will tally up medal totals at the end, seeing who won most. It is kind of like how each student at P.S. 276 will log their miles and their points will all be added up to represent their school against their “rival” school.

At the end of our visit, they seemed convinced they could earn more points and be the “fittest school in NYC.”

The important thing for World Fit is to introduce kids to being active if they are not already and hope they continue after their World Fit journey ends. Did you know almost 1/3 of kids today are considered to be obese or overweight? That is just too much and this number can be easily reduced with the right amount of exercise and nutrition. We discussed the importance of proper nutrition to fuel our bodies for exercise and stretches to help our body stay limber and recover. But in the end, we all agreed, we’ll exercise and eat right because it feels good and life is much sweeter when you’re feeling good.

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