Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=111421
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 5:53:44 AM CST
Beth Furtwangler & Julia Hawes/MEDILL
Beth Furtwangler & Julia Hawes/MEDILL
With Olympic fever growing in Chicago, gold medalist gymnast Kerri Strug helped kick-start the 2009 Tyson Fitness Challenge with dozens of North Side kids who tumbled, jumped and flexed their way to athletic lifestyles.
Strug limped off the Olympic podium 13 years ago, gold medal in hand and with a third-degree lateral sprain in her left ankle.
Strug healed and continues exercising as a marathon runner, even with her new profession as a program manager for the Federal Youth Court Program at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
She revved up this year's fitness challenge on Tuesday at the Peterson Park Gymnastics Center on Pulaski Avenue. The Chicago-based, six-week initiative runs through Feb. 16.
“I think the younger you start the better, so it's implemented into daily activities,” said Strug, 31. “Nobody can take better care of your body than you.”
The challenge aims to engage more than 4,000 local young gymnasts in the four tenets of the Tyson Fitness Challenge: cardiovascular exercise, strength training, flexibility and nutrition. Tyson Foods Inc. has sponsored the fitness program with USA Gymnastics since 2006.
Strug knew by the time she was 3 years old that she wanted to be a gymnast. The sport works your entire body, she explained, unlike some activities that only exercise specific muscles.
“It doesn't seem like exercise,” Strug said. “They’re having a good time—it's not like you're doing the same thing over and over.”
Brianna Murphy, 9, who has taken gymnastics classes for three years, said that having fun was the first step in winning the elusive gold medal, like her hero, Kerri Strug.
"You have to choose something that you're having fun [with] and that you pick because you'll be there, like, every single day and not skip any," Murphy said. "My goal is to go to the Olympics."
Sydney Lorenzana, 13, who has been doing gymnastics since she was a toddler, said the exercises are both fun and challenging.
At the inaugural event, young gymnasts demonstrated all the types of exercises the fitness challenge promotes.
Tyson Fitness, USA Gymnastics, Chicago 2016, World Sport Chicago and the Chicago Park District co-sponsored the Tuesday event.
"Here in Chicago, you've got a park district that's really focused on providing opportunities for young people," said Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics. "You don't see this around the country as much as we wish we would. And to have a facility like this, where the parks department and city are so involved, is really a strong statement on behalf of what's happening here in Chicago."
Penny said that he feels the momentum gaining for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, a goal highlighted throughout the event.
The Tyson Fitness Challenge is the perfect example of what World Sport Chicago tries to do in the community, said Scott Myers, executive director of the not-for-profit. World Sport Chicago works closely with Chicago 2016 in promoting the Olympic bid and local athletic events.
"We want to give kids a chance to be creative, get involved and get active," Myers said. "And give them a recognition of the importance of the Olympics and what the Olympics stand for.”
As a first step toward the gold, promising gymnasts often compete for the Tyson American Cup, a competition scheduled for Feb. 21 at the Sears Center Arena in Hoffman Estates. The event can often serve as “a springboard to Olympic greatness,” Penny said.
Strug herself won the cup the year her team brought home the gold medal from the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. She vaulted to the national forefront after performing injured in the final team event.