On December 25, 2011 I weighed myself and saw the red arrow point towards 240 pounds. I knew that this was an unhealthy weight for a 15-year-old and realized I had to do something about it. I could no longer blame my low vision on the fact that I was not physically active (I am considered a B3 – visual acuity above 20/600 and up to visual acuity of 20/200 and/or a visual field of less than 20 degrees and more than 5 degrees in the best eye with the best practical eye correction). I was supposed to be participating in the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and WellPoint Foundation National Fitness Challenge but I had not even done anything with that yet, which said a lot about me at the time. After weighing nearly 240 pounds I was highly motivated to finally do something about my overweight body and make a change in my life for good. I knew if I set my mind to it, I could win and beat the competition by losing the most weight.
On December 27, 2011 I took action. I went outside in 20 degree weather for a run, a simple 3.2 mile loop, which became my daily activity. I got to the point that without my daily run I felt lost and anxious. I ran every day for two months before ending the streak due to poor weather, but the next day I was back in my routine. I began to feel good about running and started to pick up my mileage to five miles; a long run for me. By this point I was about 200 pounds and I added dieting to my daily exercise. People were starting to notice my weight loss and for the first time in my life I started to feel like an athlete. I continued to run for a few more weeks and eventually made one of the best decisions of my life by signing up for a local club rowing team. The week before crew started, I ran 11.6 miles and the feeling of being able to run that far was new to me, it felt remarkable. Once rowing started I took some time off from running and began training and conditioning for the rowing team. The conditioning started off very hard because I had been burning fat and muscle throughout my running career, and I did not have much muscle, to begin with. Circuit training and rowing machine workouts eventually become easier and by the time we got to the boat I was eager to start learning how to row. Rowing changed my body even more than running, I started to see muscles accumulating and I actually got my weight down to 180 pounds – my lowest yet and it is an awesome feeling!
I had a fire inside me that motivated me to become the best rower I could and although I was a novice, we had a pretty decent crew team. I rowed through the spring and into the summer with the Blood Street Sculls, learning skills from specialized trainers and coaches. As I got more into rowing I bought an Erg Rowing Machine and used it at home for many of my workouts. By September 2012, I was ready to go back to the Blood Street Sculls and be a better athlete. After running and rowing I finally saw myself as a real athlete because I was fit enough to row 5,000 meters and I was moving up in the boat lineups. This was one of the best feelings ever; I was actually accomplishing what I set out to do. As the rowing season came to an end, I made a promise to myself that winter was no longer an “off” season for me. Although, I shifted my interests to the school musical, I continued to be in training mode by lifting weights and doing cardio. I set a goal of returning back to the Blood Street Sculls in the spring and to make my school’s varsity rowing team.
I learned that setting goals was the best way for me to live my life. After watching myself accomplish what I set out to do, I am more open to trying new things.If people tell me to try something, I immediately go for it. I know that even if I do not get it right away with practice I will one day succeed. Even though I was a participant in the USABA and WellPoint Foundation National Fitness Challenge and I wanted to win, I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Losing weight was mainly for me, but because I lost weight I received the benefits of an awesome trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado in June 2012 to attend the National Sports Education Camp, which was a reward for the top boy and girl who lost the most weight and decreased their body mass index. It was really neat to show myself off as an athlete and meet other people who had been applying themselves in various ways throughout the National Fitness Challenge program. I know that without the start of the USABA and WellPoint Foundation National Fitness Challenge I would not have found the motivation to get active and lose weight.
Being a part of this program was the best thing that has ever happened to me and truly changed my life for the better. Now, I see a lot of potential in myself and I am truly proud of how far I have come with changing my life.
– written by: Cooper Kendall
About the USABA and WellPoint Foundation National Fitness Challenge
The objective of the National Fitness Challenge is to provide teenagers who are blind and visually impaired opportunities to achieve a higher level of fitness and to maintain or reduce their body mass index. Last year 16 agencies participated in the National Fitness Challenge and this year’s program has grown extensively with more than 20 participating agencies from across the United States who will provide more than 700 teenagers who are blind and visually impaired with an opportunity to increase their physical fitness levels and live a healthier and more active lifestyle.
In order to keep track of each participant’s success, every agency submits baseline data and monthly updates that are used to create achievable fitness and weight loss goals for each teen. Mark Lucas, executive director of the United States Association of Blind Athletes, said, “Last year the number of students participating in the program was 603, and of these 603 students 393, or 65%, maintained or reduced their body mass index. With numbers like that we predict a great success rate for a second year of the National Fitness Challenge.” With the renewal of this grant from the WellPoint Foundation, through the partnering agencies, USABA will provide each agency with sports equipment as well as fitness and nutrition coaches for teens participating in the program.
“The WellPoint Foundation helps us continue meeting the company’s commitment to helping children and adults live active lives and avoid the health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles and obesity,” said Bill Smith, president and general manager of WellPoint’s Disability and Life business. “We believe no one should be denied the right to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits associated with exercise; therefore, we are very proud to once again partner with the USABA to ensure that vision impairments do not limit the recreational opportunities afforded to teenagers across the country.”
Research has consistently shown that individuals who participate in regular physical activity to improve their health have higher energy levels, a lower risk of health-related diseases, improved psychological health, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, because of the many barriers and misconceptions about their abilities, approximately 70 percent of the nearly 56,000 children and youth who are blind and visually impaired in the United States do not participate in even a limited physical education curriculum. The implementation of the National Fitness Challenge is one program USABA and the WellPoint Foundation are using to break down these barriers.