Diego: E3 Fitness Club – Making Fitness Fun
Diego was only a second grader, but he already had weight problems. He was the heaviest student in his class at Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis. His parents, who work at low-wage jobs, were concerned about Diego’s health, but didn’t know what to do. Their work schedules meant they were often not home during meal time. Diego’s older sisters were responsible for watching him and preparing his meals, which may have contributed to his poor nutrition habits. There was little opportunity for exercise, either. Diego’s family lived in a second-story apartment in a neighborhood where it was not safe for him to play outside, and they didn’t have the money to sign him up for fitness activities at a local recreation center.
Staff at Risen Christ School learned that Diego was home alone in the morning for nearly two hours after his sisters left for school, so a staff member began picking Diego up and bringing him to school early to participate in the E3 (Eat, Exercise, Educate) Program, a collaboration between Risen Christ and St. Mary’s Health Clinics that is supported by a Health Behaviors Grant from the Greater Twin Cities United Way. One element of the program, the E3 Fitness Club, provides students the opportunity to get their recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day through such activities as sports, martial arts, dance, and yoga. Students also learn about nutrition and other health topics through fun, interactive lessons presented by University of Minnesota graduate students in public health.
The E3 Fitness Club provides a safe space where the kids are taught to support and encourage each other, which can be extremely important for kids such as Diego, who may struggle with physical activities, especially at first. For example, on one Friday for Fitness Mania day, an obstacle course had been set up in the gym. Obstacles included crawling through hula-hoops, jumping over ropes, making a lay-up, and running zigzag through barriers. They were timed to encourage them to beat their initial score. By the third time through the course, Diego was visibly exhausted. The other students had all finished and were waiting for him back at the start line. As he approached the final zigzag part of the course, Diego slowed down and glanced at the distance back to the start line. He looked ready to give up. At that moment, one of the E3 instructors began a chant: “Die-go! Die-go!” All the kids chimed in and Diego looked at the line of about 40 kids chanting his name and started sprinting through the zigzags. When he made it to the finish line, Diego got high-fives from the whole group and was beaming as he left Fitness Club.
Diego now attends the E3 Fitness Club five days a week and his dad says they have finally seen Diego’s weight stabilize. At home, he has been showing his sisters and parents the stretches, warm-up moves, and martial arts kicks he’s been learning in Fitness Club. Diego’s teacher says he comes to class with flushed cheeks and a bit sweaty every morning, but also happy and ready to get started. It’s clear to his teacher and his family that Diego loves coming to Fitness Club. His dad says that Diego is also aware that he has stopped gaining weight and is proud of this.
Thanks to United Way funding, Diego is getting the physical activity that he needs, through opportunities that his parents are unable to provide on their own. His weight is controlled, he’s learning about healthy eating, and he’s doing it in a safe and supportive environment, which makes him feel happy and proud of what he’s accomplished so far.