Fitness Challenge Day Empowers Families to Stay Healthy

Santa Cruz Sentinel
by Terri Morgan

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

WATSONVILLE >> Julian Alcantar and Hazel Hernandez want to get their young daughter off to a healthy start in life. So while 17-month-old Sofia Alcantar was exploring some of the activities at the Second Annual Family Fitness Challenge Day in Watsonville, the fit, young couple took a moment to explain why eating well and staying active is so important to their family.

"We come from families with diabetes and that concerns us," Hernandez said. "We want to be healthy, for us and for her."

Sofia, who minutes before had been joyfully throwing brightly colored miniature pom-poms while playing a game called "Clean Your Room" didn't realize she was doing something good for her body. She was just having fun.

That was the goal behind the event, which drew an estimated 300 to 350 people to Ramsay Park's Sotomayor Field Sunday despite early morning showers. Volunteers and staffers from the United Way of Santa Cruz County, which hosted the event along with its Jovenes SANOS youth advocacy and leadership project for teens, had converted the large, grassy field to a family friendly recreational zone. Other sponsors included the City of Watsonville and Santa Cruz County, along with numerous local businesses.

Activity stations were set up throughout the area so families could experience a host of fun opportunities, like yoga, Zumba, soccer, obstacle courses, fun runs and games. Stations offering healthy snacks, like orange slices and fresh strawberries, and beverages like apple cider, lemonade, fruit smoothies and water also dotted the field.

Participants were given punch cards that, upon completion, were entered into a raffle for gym memberships, T-shirts, flats of strawberries, soccer balls and other fitness related prizes.

"The goal is to get family support for physical activities," said Kym Lacrosse, the project director for Jovenes SANOS.

By offering a host of enjoyable activities, information about local recreational opportunities and health foods, the organizers wanted parents and children to have fun together. The idea is to get people hooked on physical and healthy activities and show them how they can continue to practice them throughout the year.

"We want it to become a normal way of life," Lacrosse said.

Judging by the smiles and giggles, participants were indeed having fun. At many of the stations, like the "parachute game" where young kids stationed around a brightly colored circular parachute and waved it up and down in unison until all the soft fabric balls had fallen off. As the game ended, several tots voiced the word "again," and begged their parents to let them continue to play.

One of the obstacle courses, where youngsters were encouraged and escorted by volunteers from the Grocery Outlet dressed up as super heroes was also a huge hit with the younger set.

The goal is to "get kids moving, put a smile on their faces and make it fun," said Thalia Meza. Decked out in a black batman T-shirt, a black cowl that covered her head and eyes and colorful Captain America style sock with miniature capes attached, she noted happily that goal had been achieved.

"Lots of kids do it again and again," she said, adding the costumes were a hit with the children. "Who doesn't like a super hero?" she asked rhetorically.

The healthy snacks, which were donated by local businesses, were also a hit. Young Oscar Luna was more engrossed in eating pieces of fresh watermelon than talking to a reporter about the Zumba dance he participated in with his parents.

While a healthy diet and fitness is important for everyone, organizers were prompted to launch the event last year in Watsonville due to the alarming rate of childhood obesity in the community. While an estimated 31 percent of all kids in the City of Santa Cruz are considered obese, the rate in Watsonville is 49.3 percent. The Rethink Your Drink booth was set up to help kids understand how much sugar is added to many of their favorite beverages in an effort to reduce that percentage. The station included a guessing game where kids could discover exactly how much sugar that drinks like Vitamin water, sports drinks, energy drinks, juice, sweetened iced teas and other popular drinks contained.

"People are totally surprised," said Corinne Hyland from the county's health education services agency. "They don't realize how much sugar they get every day" in their drinks.

Offering a healthier alternative, Hyland handed out small cups of cold water infused with fresh mint, pineapple and strawberries to add flavor.

To ensure the message regarding the value of healthy food was reinforced, volunteers handed out bags of fresh fruit and vegetables to anyone who stopped to fill out a survey about the event.