By Marjorie Hernandez – Wednesday, January 30, 2008
What does it take to get 1,000 high school students excited for a full day of exercise?
Try an early morning workout with fitness guru Billy Blanks.
With clear skies and brisk 43-degree weather, Blanks — inventor of the popular total body workout called Tae Bo — hit the soccer field with Oaks Christian School students at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, kicking off a variety of activities for the Westlake Village school’s annual symposium.
This year’s theme, “Thrive: Use Your Pulse,” was geared to teach students tools to keep them mentally, physically and spiritually healthy, administrators said.
“Adults and students need to respond to the alarming rate of obesity in America, and here at Oaks Christian, we feel we have a responsibility to our bodies to teach students about preventative healthcare and how to make wise decisions that will affect them in a good way,” academic dean Tim Fenderson said.
With fast-paced music blaring across the soccer field, Blanks and assistants Jude Lee and Julieann Hartman stretched, squatted and high-kicked with participants to jump-start their heart rates.
After the 30-minute session, Blanks asked students to gather around the makeshift stage and offered some words of wisdom.
“I grew up in special education, and people thought I was mentally retarded, but I had a learning disorder,” Blanks said. “I was a shy kid and didn’t know how to ask for help. You have to come out of that shell. If you don’t you will lose your power.”
Wiping sweat off his brow and munching on a healthy snack, junior Hunter Cosmala said the session with Blanks inspired him to continue working out.
“There are muscles on my sides that I never knew existed until now,” Cosmala, 17, joked. “This is something that we can all apply daily to our lives.”
This year’s symposium was organized by a student committee led by senior Lauren Radke. She said the committee wanted to include a variety of activities to promote healthy lifestyles.
“There are a lot of diseases that you can prevent, and we just wanted students to know the choices you make will affect your quality of life,” said Radke, who hopes to become a nutritionist.
Dangers of inactivity, obesity
Tuesday’s symposium also included guest speakers, including Dr. Richard McCauley, medical director of the health store Wellnessmart, and Joe Graves, creator of a computer program called VitaBot, which analyzes nutritional content in food and creates healthy meal plans.
McCauley and Graves spoke about the numerous health risks caused by inactivity and obesity, including heart disease, cancer and stroke.
“I believe there’s both a burden and opportunity for your generation to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” McCauley said as he addressed the students at nearby Calvary Church. “Generations before you were not informed, and what you see in the healthcare system are folks who didn’t have the right tools to live a healthy life.”
Students also had the opportunity to participate in workshops, such as a self-defense session led by Blanks, relaxation techniques with Oaks Christian Coach Michele McKittrick and hip-hop dance with dance teacher Hayley McClelland.
Students and some brave teachers tried to keep up with McClelland’s moves as she taught a routine to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”
Although he looked the part — dressed in red track-suit pants, a gray hooded sweatshirt and dark sunglasses — English teacher Mike Zirretta smiled as he struggled to finish the hip-hop routine.
Water polo coach guest speaker
“I got about 30 percent of it,” he said. “This is my first experience (dancing hip-hop) and it will probably be my last. It’s a great exercise. I have six children, and I’m not exercising enough, so I thought I might as well try this.”
Tuesday’s keynote speaker — Terry Schroeder, a Westlake Village chiropractor and U.S. Olympic men’s water polo coach — spoke to the students about “living in alignment.”
“When you live in alignment, you form good habits live spiritually and do all the things you need to do to become a success in life and in all that you do,” Schroeder said.