When Mom or Dad suggests setting down the Xbox and getting some exercise or bypassing a soda in favor of water, a child is as likely to roll his eyes or put up a fight as he is to comply.
But when the same message comes from an Olympic gold medalist or a Paralympian who has defied the odds, the kid might listen – and even start to change his fitness habits. That’s been the experience of the athletes, P.E. instructors and students who take part in the Ready, Set, Gold! (RSG!) program at more than 60 Los Angeles Unified District schools. The athletes come into participating schools to serve as fitness mentors and promote healthy habits, and the students pay attention.
“There’s a recurring theme here,” says Bernadine Bednarz, RSG! director. “If an outsider comes in and says something that a parent or teacher has said a thousand times, the reaction is, ‘Oh my God, is that new?’ I have students saying, ‘I did one more push-up today’ or, ‘I wasn’t going to run, but because I saw you today, I ran.’”
Eight years ago, the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games developed RSG! while lobbying to bring the 2012 games to Los Angeles. The bid wasn’t successful, but the program was instituted anyway, and 25 Southern California-based Olympians and Paralympians worked with 25 schools during its first year of operation.
After being paired with a participating elementary, middle or high school, each athlete visits six times each school year to speak at assemblies and lead exercises. Instructors and athletes establish fitness goals for the students in accordance with the state-mandated Fitnessgram tests given annually to fifth, seventh and ninth graders.
During his visits to Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School in Northridge, hurdler and double medalist Mark Crear enjoys tapping into students’ competitive spirits.
“At that age, they’re like sponges,” Crear says. “Before the sponge dries, we can have some positive impact on their lives.”
Learn more about the program at www.readysetgold.net or by calling 213-482-6346.