Club Mo makes kids gung ho

Nikki Free, Emily Magdalena, both 11, Leslie Cumber, 12, and Ethan Low, 13 work out under the trained eye of instructor Kelvin Thomas at Club Mo Kids at Momentum Health Club in Clinton. - Gayle Saran
Nikki Free, Emily Magdalena, both 11, Leslie Cumber, 12, and Ethan Low, 13 work out under the trained eye of instructor Kelvin Thomas at Club Mo Kids at Momentum Health Club in Clinton.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

A small group of 10- to 15-year-olds meets twice a week for fun and games at Momentum Health Club.

At least that's what they think.

While having fun, they are actually getting fit. The students are part of a new program, Club Mo Kids, that includes specialized exercises and activities designed to increase their overall endurance.

It is also an opportunity many American children do not have. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Washington teens in grades 9 through 12 exercise more than the average U.S. teen. But elsewhere, nearly half of Americans ages 12 through 21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis. According to the CDC, daily enrollment in physical education classes dropped from 42 to 25 percent among high school students between 1991 and 1995; the rate stabilized at 29 percent in 1999.

For kids who feel they have not been getting enough exercise, the class seems to be working. Challa Roberts, 11, said working out in Club Mo Kids means less stress.

"We just work every part of the body by running, jumping and just having fun," she said. "It helps relieve stress and forget problems. I feel better after my workout."

The class instructor, Kelvin Thomas, said the overall benefit to the one-hour workout sessions at Club Mo Kids is physical fitness and enhanced self-esteem. A series of timed activities during the class develops cardiovascular endurance, strengthens bones and muscles and builds agility and coordination.

Thomas said he also tries to bring a positive, supportive attitude to the class.

"I don't promote competition between the students," he said. "Rather the focus is to do well for themselves. Improving their overall fitness enhances their self esteem, too."

Thomas says it's not unusual for kids this age to feel out of place and unsure of themselves physically. Teaching them how to move in space with balance and agility helps calm these feelings. In the class, Thomas uses repetitive exercises until certain movements become natural for the kids.

The workout is planned through a number of different stations. Thomas times the students at each station before they move to the next. Exercises include catching tennis balls for hand-eye coordination, reaction drills, quick, explosive lateral movements like those used in soccer, and jumping, to develop lower body strength and coordination.

One of the favorite stations among class participants is a slide activity in which they put cloth covers over their shoes and slide laterally on a slick surface.

"I like to do everything, but the slide is my favorite," said 11-year-old Nikki Free.

Thomas also uses motivation techniques that keep the students interested and moving. The participants become as gung ho about exercise as their instructor.

"I have never exercised to this degree," said class participant Niles McDonald. "Everything I try after this will seem pathetic."

Thomas said the class is not just for kids who are already fit or involved in sports. It is appropriate for both active and inactive students.

"A couple of students play soccer and come to help develop their skills," he said. "But it also benefits the kids who haven't been active or involved in team sports."

Thomas is the father of two athletic girls. In addition to being a certified fitness instructor and committed athlete himself, he has coached basketball, and assisted with the South Whidbey High School basketball team last year.

"I hope to encourage teens to add a physical activity program that they enjoy and will continue to do," Thomas said.

Club Mo Kids is one way local children can exceed the statistical averages determined by the CDC.

About 35 percent of children recently surveyed by the agency reported engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes five or more days of the past week. Nearly 70 percent of Washington teens in grades 9 through 12 reported engaging in vigorous physical activity for 20 minutes at least three times a week.

Fifty-six percent of Washington students surveyed in grades 9 through 12 said they did strengthening exercises at least three days a week, and 44.2 percent participated in daily physical education classes.

The survey also showed that boys are more likely to take physical education classes than girls.

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