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Building a Lifelong Love of Fitness, One Fun Run at a Time

By Therese Genis, Latino Strong Fast Fit Program Coordinator
February 5, 2014
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Neylee warms up for the race.

“I have never owned a medal before!”

“I can’t wait to show my parents my medal!”

Many of our Strong Fast Fit participants beamed as they proudly showed off the medals they received from the annual Fieldhouse Fun Run held at the University of Minnesota this past Saturday, February 1. And that was exactly what we were hoping to accomplish at the race — getting our youth excited about exercising and healthy physical activity.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s latest reports, one of every six children age 2-19 in the United States is obese. In terms of racial and ethnic disparities, those rates are even higher in Latino and Native American youth. In the YWCA’s Strong Fast Fit program, we are working to change those statistics in our communities, working with culturally specific groups of youth on nutrition and being more physically active.

Although this Saturday required getting up early and braving frigid temperatures, the Strong Fast Fit participants and their families were all in high spirits as we shared a healthy breakfast at the YWCA Midtown, then boarded the buses for the race. Once we arrived, the youth were able to play interactive games with Radio Disney and enjoy each other’s company while they waited for their turn to run in waves based on their grades. You could see the excitement and anticipation rising in the youth as they warmed up with University of Minnesota athletes, then proceeded to the start line. YWCA staff and parents cheered the youth on as they ran around the track. It was fun to watch the bursts of energy every time they ran by the cheering crowds, and how they picked up their pace again and again with our encouragement. The youth couldn’t be happier as they crossed the finish line and received their medals.

Unlike adults, who may be motivated to improve their health, youth often need different types of motivation — something that provides more instant gratification. Strong Fast Fit gets youth motivated by making fitness fun and by giving them obtainable goals related to being active, such as training and participating in youth races like this Saturday’s Fun Run.

Eleven-year-old Neylee Baires, like many of our other of Strong Fast Fit participants, was not too fond of running before this race. In fact, she wasn’t even planning on signing up. But after some encouragement from her father, she decided to go for it, and along with 52 other youth and more than 60 family members supporting her, she happily completed the mile run, then rounded out the exciting day with some prizes from Radio Disney and high praise from the head judge! And that is exactly the kind of changes in attitude toward fitness that Strong Fast Fit wishes to impart to our youth and families so they can be motivated to makes healthy changes on their own. As our program motto states, we are “building a lifelong love of fitness, one heart beat at a time!”

We hope you and your family can join us for the next youth run on May 17 at Como Park. We know our youth can’t wait for it!