TAMPA — The kids at Lutz Elementary School have plenty of choices of things to do at recess. They can sit around and wait for the next class, watch the grass grow, or, as 98 percent of Lutz’s students did last year, they can fight childhood obesity by running.
Physical education coach Amanda Fulmer started the Lutz Mile Club last December. The idea was to help the students get into shape during recess. They got a nice reward for every five miles they ran and this year they are hoping to put up an even larger number of miles. With a full school year, that should be easy because the kids at Lutz are very into the program.
“We need to be fit and be in good shape and this is fun,” third-grader Catalena Palomino said. “I like to run with my friends and this is a great way to stay in shape.”
Catalena’s running buddy is third-grader Cara Jensen. The two have a friendly battle over who is the fastest as they rack up the miles.
“I’m faster but she and I are pretty close,” Cara said. “We just try to tie. But if we are racing, I think I can win.”
The kids get a token for every five miles and the tokens are added to a necklace to be worn proudly. For every 55 miles they run or walk, they are given a certificate and featured on the morning announcements. After 110 miles, they get a special pin.
Last year, the Lutz kids ran 16,175 miles on a track that Fulmer designed. That was after only five months of running.
Lutz won a grant from the Saucony shoe company, which has a Run for Good foundation to combat childhood obesity.
The kids at Lutz understand the problem of childhood obesity. Second-grader Nicholas Nina, who can beat his third-grade brother, Joshua — at least he says he can — said obesity is all about kids eating too much and not getting any exercise.
Fourth-grader Billy Payne is one of the school’s success stories. He set a goal last year to lose a certain amount of weight. Fulmer said no one in the program tried harder to lose weight. Billy worked hard, ran every day and lost a lot of weight. Fulmer said he was a special success story.
“It was tough at first, but I knew I had to exercise 60 minutes a day,” Billy said. “I like what has happened. I feel a lot better and eat a lot better.”
Fulmer said she has always been concerned with childhood obesity. She built the track around the campus herself and painted leopard claws, for the Lutz mascot, on the trees. She was a former college athlete and expressed an interest in working toward ending childhood obesity and worked hard for the grant that is helping to fund her project.
“We need the parents to be involved as well,” Fulmer said. “Our kids really rock. They are understanding the need to stay fit. The kids understand and are having a fun time staying in shape. It’s OK to watch TV or play video games, but they need to eat well and get an hour of exercise every day. I think our kids get it. They really rock.”