High School Athletes Spread Healthy Message To Community

Positive Peer Influence Used To Fight Childhood Obesity

At City Park, 13 young men from East High School line up and run football plays, honing their skills. They're taking part in a nonprofit program called Athletics and Beyond.

"We use athletics to capture the attention of young adults," said Narcy Jackson, the executive director of Athletics and Beyond.

The program mentors teens in several sports, and also teaches civic responsibility and leadership skills.

"The beyond part is more of academics," said Taylor Juniel, a sophomore at East High School. "It's saying, 'Live above the influence.' It's saying, 'You don't have to join everyone else. Grades are cool.'"

Beginning this year, the program will also focus on health and nutrition, joining the fight against childhood obesity through the Wellness Boot Camp 2011. The boot camp kicks off with an event running April 15-17, and the principles will carry on throughout the program's other clinics.

"We are doing like a lot of understanding your body. Like, how to be a healthy person," said Ryan Chavkin, a sophomore at East High School.

"We've been slowly but surely implementing the importance of diet," Jackson said. "We've always had it with our workshops and our football clinics and basketball clinics, it's just now, we have an opportunity to have it as a major part of our program."

Participants in the program are keeping track of the food they eat through daily journals and are learning about healthy food choices. Jackson's hope is that the training and education given to these student athletes will have a ripple effect in their school and community.

"Because they are leaders within their peer group, and people tend to look toward them for leadership, if we can make this cool among them then it will be cool amongst the other kids," said Grace White, wellness coordinator for Athletics and Beyond.

"When I was little, I used to look up to everybody around my age. I used to think they were like grown men, and I used to do whatever they said," Juniel said. "So if I say something to a little kid, like 7 or 8, then he's going to listen because he's going to think it's cool. If he's growing up thinking that eating healthy is good and getting an education is good, then it's going to be real effective in our community."

Athletics and Beyond is one of four Colorado-based organizations that were recently awarded grants to help fight childhood obesity. United Healthcare of Colorado granted $500 to each of the following organizations: YMCA of Pueblo, The Youth Foundation in Edwards, The Boys and Girls Club of Chaffee County, and Athletics and Beyond.

To learn more about the programs and clinics offered by Athletics and Beyond, click here.

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