Operation FitKids partnership creating youth fitness centers

Not more than two weeks after the unveiling of a new national fitness initiative, Fitness! Right! Now!, the group has announced it will create several youth fitness centers around the country in partnership with its presenting sponsor, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), as a part of its touring public fitness programs. The youth centers will be part of ACE's program, Operation FitKids.
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Not more than two weeks after the unveiling of a new national fitness initiative, Fitness! Right! Now!, the group has announced it will create several youth fitness centers around the country in partnership with its presenting sponsor, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), as a part of its touring public fitness programs. The youth centers will be part of ACE's program, Operation FitKids.

As a part of the Fitness! Right Now! (FRN) program (see SNEWS® story, July 19, 2004), the group will organize so-called "mall tours" around the country best described as weekend fitness festivals that allow attendees to try exercises and to consult with ACE-certified personal trainers and instructors. It is in each of the estimated eight to 10 cities where the FRN fitness tour stops that ACE plans to create a youth fitness facility.

"It creates a permanent market in the community so instead of doing a one-time event and going away, which is customary for most of these things -- splash events, then there's nothing -- we'll establish a lasting community marker so the event is memorable," Ken Germano, ACE executive director, told SNEWS®.

ACE founded Operation FitKids (OFK) in 1990 as a way to try to provide a solution to the lack of physical activity opportunities available to children and to help combat the nation's childhood obesity dilemma. More than 300 centers in some form or another -- some with equipment and some as educational hubs -- have been created since then, although some don't exist anymore, Germano said, since they require the management, dedication and upkeep by someone in the community or a local school district. Approximately 150 or so exist today as complete fitness centers, said Scott Goudeseune, ACE vice president of operations, with nearly two dozen centers considered models in the San Diego, Calif., area, the city ACE calls home.

Germano said in a perfect world, a center will be created in each of the cities where the fitness tour stops, but that will depend on available sponsors and community participation and organization. The plan is to choose one school district in each area where the center will be located, with the selection based on an application by the district much like the application for a grant.

"If we can challenge and empower the schools, then we're leveraging existing assets," Germano added.

He stressed that OFK and ACE have to work as efficiently as possible in creating these centers since money is either non-existent or at a premium. He also said the centers won't be traditional -- i.e., only filled with adult-style equipment -- since research has shown that doesn't excite kids or get them interested in or hooked on fitness and activity.

"Traditional doesn't work. The facilities of old won't be the facilities of new," Germano said. "It's not going to be a scaled-down commercial fitness center."

These centers will be educational hubs where instructors are trained in "train the trainer" workshops, with the size, scope and equipment dependent on area needs and size. Things like balance boards, yoga equipment, stability balls and other newer genres of equipment could also be utilized more fully.

"To do something exciting with the kids," Germano said, "it costs some dollars."

This partnership will mesh nicely with the goal of the Fitness! Right! Now! program, which is to become the link to the public that could encourage and inspire people to not only find out about fitness but also to get started, said Craig Lerner, now its executive director, who is also the founder of a sports marketing group. Mall tours are slated to get underway in spring 2005.

"The soul of the Fitness! Right! Now! initiative is to give people everything they need to embrace health and fitness in a safe and effective way," said Lerner. "We want to leave a legacy of an actual facility."

For more information about Operation FitKids, go to www.acefitness.org/ofk/, or call 1-800-825-3636. For more information about Fitness! Right! Now! and sponsorship opportunities -- even by larger retail or manufacturing companies in any industry -- contact Lerner at craig@fitnessrightnow.org or 1-800-365-4332.

SNEW® View: Anything, and we do mean ANYthing that can be done to get kids excited about activity, should be supported on a broader basis. And this means anybody who may have some money or ideas to lend, be it manufacturers and retailers in fitness, in outdoor, in health or wellness, or any other industry that cares about getting young people more fit and active so they grow up to be adults who are fit and active. We'll keep you posted as FRN and ACE continue their plans, as well as how the OFK centers shape up.

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