Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Evenings at the Flowood YMCA at 690 Liberty Road are a busy time. The large parking lot at the facility fills quickly as athletes and enthusiasts arrive for their daily workout. Through the front entrance, past the usual suspects hustling to get to the cardio blast class and the mirrored glass of the weight room, tucked away on the far end of the indoor turf field, you'll find an unexpected crew of people warming up.
The group of kids and adults, all of various ages, shapes and sizes stretch and move at their own pace until coach Lesley Dukes tells them to jog the perimeter. They quickly fall in and get to business.
A veteran gymnastics instructor and certified personal trainer, Dukes is one of several trainers involved in the FIT Program. The 90-day, health education and weight-loss program for kids ages 8 to 12 kicked-off in August. FIT is geared for kids but parents are welcome and strongly encouraged to participate in the program as well.
"The FIT program is all about keeping kids active," Program Director Evans Allen says. "There are plenty of programs out there for a kid who wants to play sports, but nothing that supports (simply) being active—this type of program has been a long-time desire of mine."
Allen, a professional member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, works with the Performance Training Center (501 Baptist Drive, Madison) and has been a trainer in Mississippi for about nine years. His resume includes training with NFL football players Deuce McAllister and baseball player Seth Smith, but his heart is in working with kids.
About 10 months ago, Allen sat down with Jennifer Mooneyham from 4 the Family Healthcare to brainstorm about starting a fitness program for kids who have issues with weight. Mooneyham, who works with a number of children and families the program would serve, recognized his passion and got to work making connections with local health-care providers.
"When I heard Evans talk about his idea, I could see how sincere he was," Mooneyham says. "It made me want to make the program happen."
The program they came up with is a nonprofit that draws on local resources, including volunteer doctors and nutritionists who teach educational sessions, and a growing scholarship fund.
Participants pay $300 per child with a generous incentive: if they attend three out of four classes per week for the 90-day session, they earn a $150 refund.
As the one-hour class progresses, Dukes has the crew doing sit-ups, squats and lunges, with a short jog between each exercise.
"We're trying to keep our heart rate up and muscles contracted, working for that afterburn," Dukes explains, "They do 20 to 25 reps of each, using their own body weight. When they leave the class, they'll continue to burn calories."
Dukes has a lovely smile that inspires confidence. She's been working with children for 16 years, teaching gymnastics at local daycare centers and summer programs.
"I enjoy working with kids, seeing their improvements and achievements," Dukes says. "They tell me, 'I did this over the weekend.' or 'I've lost some weight.'" She pauses a moment. "What they're doing in FIT is a source of pride."
The point is to inspire pride and confidence, educate kids and parents, and give them an accessible way to get and stay fit.
"After this program, if you want to go to a park and play, you'll have an idea of how to warm-up, exercise and how to cool down, so you aren't tied to a gym or a facility for the rest of your life," Allen says.
FIT is sponsored by Mississippi Sports Medicine (4309 Lakeland Drive), 4 The Family Healthcare (1127 Old Fannin Road, Suite C) and Health Management Associates. HMA provided physicians, dieticians, water bottles and refreshments. FIT will start a new class in January. For more information, call Evers Allen at 601-259-0703 or 4 The Family Health at 601-919-1090.