TAMPA – Running around in the Florida sun isn’t exactly the most exciting thing for kids, especially when there are video games and televisions indoors where the air conditioning is on and the couch is comfy.
At the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA, there are a lot of kids who aren’t sitting around watching the world go by on a video screen. Chris Roese, sports director of the YMCA, has created a program to help children get off their butts and out into the sun, running to lose weight and achieve goals that can’t be met on the couch.
Roese started a running club and it has been popular among third- through fifth-graders. He started the program last year and had 25 kids. Roese now has 30 students in his class and the number is growing.
“It’s a fight against childhood obesity,” Roese said. “It’s a big problem and we want to do something about it. We give them goals and we hope they can achieve them. It’s better than just letting the kids stay inside all day.”
The goal for the kids is to run 600 meters, or a half-mile to earn a shot at running in one of the annual Gasparilla races. The children aren’t expected to run the half-mile right away, which is how the Run Club starts its program, but they are expected to build up to it.
“We know some of these kids can’t make a half-mile right away, but they are excited and it’s special when they can reach that goal,” Roese said. “If we can build them up for the Gasparilla, that would be great.”
Roese said he deals a lot with parents and emphasizes the importance of running to stay in shape, but he never brings up obesity. He just explains the importance of keeping their children in shape.
It’s all about fun, Roese said. Without the fun, it’s just a tedious run with a balance of heat and sweat.
“We are trying to make it fun and make it a game,” Roese said. “When we run, it isn’t about winning a race or anything, we just want them to run and have fun.”
Roese said there are plenty of games, including relay races and sometimes there are fitness tests.
Roese said he hopes that the kids take the lessons they have learned at the YMCA far beyond fifth grade.
“They aren’t at the age where they understand that fitness is a long-term thing,” Roese said. “Being healthy is important and if we can show the results to them, maybe they will learn from it and use it as they move forward.”
The YMCA offers healthy snacks for all of its children, but Roese said the Run Club is encouraged to eat properly all the time. Childhood obesity is a major issue at the local YMCAs and Roese is determined to do whatever he can about it.
“If a kid is overweight then we can just encourage them,” Roese said. “We make sure they are healthy when we can, with the support of the parents, and we want to make a difference.”