Hearing about the rising incidence of obesity in children makes Mary Burns cringe.
Burns, the group fitness coordinator at the Tucson Jewish Community Center is working with other JCC staffers, including children, youth and camping services director Scott Zorn; sports and wellness coordinator/ aquatics supervisor Mindy Grodzki; and sports and wellness manager Jason Apodaca to encourage more exercise and conditioning in Tucson youth.
“It’s part of our responsibility to the community to help children become more fit,” says Burns. “Fit children grow up to be fit adults. My job is to make it as fun as possible.”
Toward that end, the JCC has started a variety of new programs to help children become more fit. Ten to 14 year-olds from Tucson Hebrew Academy and other schools now have their own spinning (cycling in place) half-hour class on Tuesdays after school. “We’ve had six to 10 kids coming to class pretty steadily,” says Burns, who adds that their skills have “improved exponentially. The class builds their stamina. That’s the key. We’re trying to help kids increase their physicality.”
“I really try to get to all the [spinning] classes,” says Alexis Sokoloff, 12. “It’s hard, but it’s fun. I like making new friends and doing the class on my own.”
Participants don’t have to be Jewish to participate in the programs. The cycling class offers cross-training for youth who engage in other sports at school or at the JCC, such as swimming. Spinning is “motivational as well as social. I’d also love to see more kids participate in inter-generational sports interaction,” says Burns, such as the father-son basketball program at the JCC.
Even 3- and 4-year-olds can participate in sports programs, says Apodaca, who runs soccer and baseball programs for that youngest age group. “We teach basic exercise, how to interact with other little kids in an instructional setting,” he told the AJP. “We get them to see that dribbling, passing, shooting [baskets] are fun at an early age.”
Aquatics supervisor Grodzki points out that the JCC has many after-school swimming programs for 5- to 18-year-olds, including a year-round USA swim team that competes against other swim clubs and allows the swimmers to get to the nationals, where college coaches may view them. The JCC also offers a summer non-competitive swim league, and many other opportunities for lessons and group swimming.
On Sunday, May 22, the JCC will host a Splash & Dash, a swimming and running biathlon for ages 4 to adult. Parents can do a relay with a child, says Grodzki, noting that her daughters Gabi, 8, and Aleks, 11, have teamed up in the past. The Splash & Dash is a fun way for family members to participate in a short swim and run together, she says, adding that the event used to take place once a year but last year the aquatic program initiated a series of three.
Summer league participants don’t swim more than two laps at a time, says Grodzki. “They get to bond with other kids, and have a social connection getting to cheer on their teammates.”
More new JCC kids’ fitness programs are on the horizon, especially for 6th to 8th graders, says Zorn. “We’re starting junior Zumba [dance], nutrition education and we’re looking at Pilates classes.”
For Burns, considering the physical health of the whole person and how society may evolve are inextricably linked. “It’s absolutely amazing what people can do when they want to,” she says. “The goal of America should be to take [unnecessary] food out of our mouths and our fingers off the computer, getting people to be physical again. We’re losing them to a sedentary lifestyle.”