With the crescendo of more than 600 hundred of Rayburn Elementary School students, the word of the day for elementary students across San Antonio was “fitness.”
San Antonio Sports‘ 12th annual Go!Kids Challenge kicked festivities for the 40 day-commitment to healthy habits including exercise, proper diet, and plenty of water during an opening ceremony Thursday afternoon. Students at Rayburn will join more than 140,000 other elementary students at 230 schools citywide in the challenge.
“Getting a chance to tell kids they can be their best with their diet, exercise and academics will create good habit for the future,” said the former Philadelphia Eagle and Green Bay Packer during the kickoff ceremony. “You have to make exercise fun. I remember playing football and I remember the greatest players I knew, even in the NFL, were the ones that didn’t make working out a job.”
Harrison’s father taught him the value of fitness and academics, a lesson he learned and applied when he attended the University of Notre Dame. Now it was his turn to share those same lessons to the children of Rayburn Elementary School.
San Antonio Sports partnered with University Health System (UHS), the City of San Antonio, and a host of other sponsors to teach fitness and proper nutrition at an early age to prevent future health complications.
“Our whole mission is to transform the community through the power of sports. Activity and nutrition are all parts of the healthy lifestyle. The Go!Kids Challenge started 12 years ago and it has changed the culture,” said Russ Bookbinder, San Antonio Sports president and CEO.
In 2012, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reported that 13% of adults have diabetes, a figure slightly higher than the state average. City officials are focused on reducing that rate to 12% in order to achieve the SA2020 goal. The educational aspect is paramount.
“For the kids that are in the program this year, hopefully it’s a launch pad to start eating healthier and getting exercise,” Bookbinder said. “We’re all part of a village that’s trying to educate our entire community including parents and grandparents. It’s these kids that will take that message to the next generation.”
According to San Antonio Sports, its various athletic training and fitness initiatives that have a local economic impact of $460 million.
Unlike many cities grappling with negative health trends, San Antonio is unique in its partnerships. The Go!Kids Challenge is just one of the initiatives that has garnered a strong backing to prevent long-term health issues.
“We’re fortunate to have the support of our city and our businesses. To have partners like the city, University Health System and our school districts is very important. It’s not going to happen by a single organization,” Bookbinder said.
The cost of treating diabetes topped $245 billion nationwide in 2012 — a sobering statistic considering the cost was $174 billion in 2007. With UHS treating many patients with similar diagnoses, the urgency to reverse the trend is evident.
“The great thing about his program is that it gets young kids into healthy habit,” said District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran. “Not only will the kids do it, but so will their parents and siblings. So you want to impact the entire family unit because it’s about prevention of illnesses like diabetes.”
Success in community outreach programs such as these is gauged by long-term adoption of a healthy lifestyle. According to Viagran, the key is a united front.
“If you’re in a home of four people and you’re the only one that changes their diet, you still need people behind you to help and keep you motivated. When you start (healthy habits) together, you start keeping each other accountable,” Viagram said.
For UHS, it is that accountability for which they hope to continue exercise routines even at home.
“It’s important to know that these kids will learn just what they did this afternoon can be done anywhere. It’s a lifelong task to be active on a daily basis,” said Michelle Ryerson, senior vice president of chief nursing and chief operating officer for UHS Children’s Health.
Proactive efforts such as the Go!Kids Challenge do not just remind kids that exercise can be pleasant, but also life-saving, a message not lost on Ryerson.
“Exercise that is fun teaches (kids) that it’s part of normal life,” Ryerson continued. “As a result of that, we can prevent most of the illnesses we get as adults. These are the things that change our community and keep children fit and in school. This is all a part of making a healthy San Antonio.”
Extolling the virtues of a healthy life is much easier when you have the right example, be it your father, daughter, or former NFL player.
*Featured/top image: From left: KABB-TV’s Erin Nichols, Former NFL Player Tyreo Harrison, Michelle Ryerson of UHS, Harlandale Superintendent Rey Madrigal and Councilmember Rebecca Viagran join students for a photo opportunity at Rayburn Elementary School. Photo by Kristian Jaime.