Years ago, when Sarah VanSickle was still a young professional just out of college, her little sister taught her a life lesson.
One day, while the two of them were driving, Sarah saw a child riding a moped without a helmet. Then he took his hands off the bars and proceeded to do a trick. This shocked Sarah.
“Oh my gosh. That’s so stupid,” she said to her sister.
“He’s not being stupid,” her sister replied. “He’s being selfish.”
“What?” Sarah said.
“He’s not thinking about anybody but himself,” her sister said. “What’s his mom going to feel like if he gets hurt?”
This conversation hit Sarah hard. She had been a smoker since she was in high school, and all that time she hadn’t thought about how her smoking could impact the people she loved such as her little sister – that smoking had the power to hurt more than just herself. So she quit, and that began her journey of striving for a healthier lifestyle.
Over the years, she started working out more and taking fitness classes. In 2011, she began working as a personal trainer at the YMCA of Michiana, and eventually became a group fitness instructor, teaching classes and training clients at both the YMCA and the Salvation Army Kroc Center.
Today, Sarah is the picture of health, and she has taken her journey to a whole new level by working to share her knowledge of how to eat right and stay in shape as the Fit Kid Program Coordinator at the South Bend Kroc Center.
Her position entails overseeing standardized prevention and intervention programs to fight childhood obesity within the greater South Bend community. This includes leading three annual Fit Kids 360 classes at the Kroc Center, which is a national program where obese children are referred to her and then set up with a therapist, nutritionist and exercise instructor.
She also helps get this information to Mishawaka children in third through fifth grades by bringing the program to four schools: Liberty, Hums, Battell and LaSalle, through a pilot called Kroc Fit Kids. Once a month, an instructor visits the school to put on a 30-minute assembly, where five minutes will be spent on health education and the other 25 on physical activity such as hip-hop dance or yoga.
Sarah says a big problem with children’s nutrition is how much sugar is added to most foods, and that people don’t realize it.
“For instance, I bought pizza sauce and, of course, you’re going to find sugar in tomatoes naturally occurring,” Sarah says, “but 90 percent of pizza sauce on the shelves has added sugar to it. So you have to be very careful to make sure that sugar is not an ingredient.”
Teachers also receive a curriculum on how to work in time for physical activity during the school day, such as giving the students structured time to perform eight to 10 minutes of physical activities at their desks. During that time period, students might punch the sky six times or march in place.
In a CDC study, 86 percent of teachers reported an improvement in classroom behavior, attendance or academic performance just by implementing 10 minutes of physical activity per day.
Sarah’s hope is to take the program to the other three Mishawaka elementary schools next year, and eventually have Kroc Fit Kids be at South Bend Community Schools and other area school districts.
Sarah has been in this position since May of this year, and even though she is expecting a child, she says it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Prior to working as the [Fit Kids Program Coordinator], I was doing about 50 hours a week of teaching classes and then personal training,” she says. “So when I found out I was pregnant, I was teaching like 16 classes a week. I knew that would need to go down and then when they offered me the job, it was just a perfect opportunity to make me slow down.”
She says that children whose parents are physically active are much more likely to also be physically active, so she expects her daughter to care about personal fitness and being healthy, but Sarah’s new job also helps make sure that her daughter’s network of friends and classmates are in a better position to take care of themselves.
Her real mission is to help change the culture so that more and more people grow up knowing what they are putting in their bodies and have effective ways to be fit and healthy. It won’t be easy, so she is starting a few kids at a time and going from there.