The key word was movement as several hundred school students sprinted, hopped, stretched and jumped their way across Weems Baskin Outdoor Track Friday.
With a backdrop of dance music and the encouragement of some Olympic gold medalists, the students embraced a call to fitness at the University of South Carolina track during the RunJumpThrow Experience.
The outing was part of the Subway Fit for Life Challenge that aims to get children excited about physical activity. The free program is held in conjunction with USA Track and Field and introduces students to basic running, jumping and throwing skills.
On Friday, participating schools across the state took part in several Olympic style events. The day featured world-class athletes ‑ 2012 Olympic gold medal winners Natasha Hastings (a former USC track standout) and Francena McCorory – as well as many members of various USC sports teams.
“Of course, we want to expose them to track and field. But the main thing is to expose them to physical fitness at an early age,” Hastings said.
The activities offered many opportunities to do that. At each of 10 stations, the young participants ‑ led by the USC athletes – completed several running, jumping, balancing and throwing exercises and competed in several team relays.
“They’re bringing all the enthusiasm,” said Alex Sullivan, a USC track team member. “It’s fun when they’re having fun. When you have 50 screaming kids, it’s hard not to get excited about it.”
White Knoll Elementary fifth-grader Brett Simon was among those adding to that excitement. The youngster said clearing the hurdles was the biggest challenge he faced, adding he is more likely to complement future tablet and television time with physical activity because of his experiences in the program.
“You can burn more calories and get in better shape,”he said.
Health statistics show that physical fitness for youngsters is more important than ever.
The Center for Disease Control reports that during the past three decades, American childhood obesity rates have tripled while nearly one in three children is overweight or obese.
The CDC also notes that, while regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence offers as significant health benefits, regular activity in young people also may improve their academic performance including grades, time management, concentration and attentiveness.
More than 60,000 students took part this year in the Subway Fit for Life Challenge in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
Talia Mack, associate director of community programs for USA Track and Field, said while the health implications alone are significant reasons for exercise, activities such as those undertaken Friday are rewards in themselves.
“We just want them to know that working out is fun and that you don’t need a lot of equipment to do it,” she said.