WITS Walks (and Swims/Bikes/Runs) the Talk

For the Wellness in the Schools leaders, the end of summer means an end to the triathlon season where they each spent many hours swimming, biking, running, and competing…successfully. As we are now well into the hustle and bustle of the new school year – with over 140 schools in 4 main markets (gulp) –  they leave behind a very active summer. A summer that perhaps got them in shape for what was to come this school year.

Nancy is not new to the triathlon scene – she was an age group competitor in the years immediately following university, where she was still seeking that same thrill of competing that she enjoyed in college. For those new to the triathlon world, a triathlon is a race that includes a swim, a bike and a run, in that order. Each race is a different distance – from a sprint to an Ironman distance (the Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile run, or a marathon!).

Nancy entered her first triathlon in 1992  and competed in an Ironman in 1998. Soon a career, a family and life took over, but she maintained a healthy lifestyle and decided to get back into the competition two years ago. She picked up immediately where she left off – winning her age group. This summer, Nancy landed back in the water and on the roads and fulfilled an 18 year dream – to compete in the NYC Triathlon – a race with over 7,000 competitors. She clearly recalls the first year the race was held here in NYC, “I was 4-weeks pregnant with my first child and one of my closest friends entered the race. As much as I wanted to join her, I was nervous about competing. I waited 18 years to do this one.” And, the wait was worth it. Nancy not only won her age group, but was also the 38th woman overall, beating athletes who were half her age! “Whether we like it or not, our ages are written on our legs. While on the bike, I somehow thought it was fun to ride past a 25-year old and tell him that I could be his mother. I guess I just have many more years (and miles) on the bike!”

The highlight of the summer triathlon season, however, was the West Point Sprint Tri where Nancy met up with WITS Executive Chef Bill Telepan and Union Square Events Executive Chef John Karangis. This group certainly sets a high standard for what it means to stay healthy – Nancy once again crushed her competition. Perhaps inspired by his over-achieving partner, Bill took on the triathlon challenge and trained with his daughter Leah for West Point. After being on his feet all night, he would get up to train in the summer heat before going back to prepare lunch for his many diners. Bill explains that since his job is so physical he needs to stay in shape. He loves the triathlon training “because it changes everyday, so I never get bored. Plus it pushes me because there is a race at the end. I loved training with my daughter this summer because we got to spend a lot of time together.” Indeed, both Nancy and Bill remain a constant inspiration and role models to not only the many children whom we serve, but also to our adult team of chefs, coaches and change-makers.

But Nancy says she works out to stay happy as much as she does to stay in shape (often the two go hand in hand). She works out to meet up with friends and gets to do both at once. “I was lucky this summer to ride with two amazing girlfriends and strong cyclists. Before we knew it, we had gone 25 miles and had solved all of the world’s problems (or at least our own).”

We no longer harvest tomatoes. We no longer eat chilled cucumber soup. We now get pumpkins and peppers. In the same manner, our workouts change with the season. Nancy is back to running in Central Park, meeting up with good friends and maybe doing a little yoga in her living room on a rainy fall day. Bill sticks to the gym. Regardless, they remain in shape and healthy and ready to continue this fight to end childhood obesity…and to take on any challenge that the school lunch/recess revolution puts in front of them.

Personifying the Power of Coach for Kids

By Wendy Siskin, Senior Program Director

It does not feel that long ago when I joined Wellness in the Schools in 2011 as a coach on the PS 87 recess yard. When I moved into a leadership role, I was charged with building the Coach for Kids program to match the impact of the Cook for Kids program – fighting childhood obesity using two sides of the same coin. I always viewed our Coach for Kids program to be more than a recess program, just like our Cook for Kids program is more than a cafeteria program. The impact we set out to make is a big one. Our vision/end goal stands at the very top of a steep mountain that not only takes tireless miles of steps, but people helping people, holding hands, inspiring one another to keep fighting, and joining forces to become even more resilient. Wellness in the Schools meets communities where they are and shifts their entire school culture, diving deeper than the recess yard and the cafeteria. That is the heart of our program. To support that fully, we have created systems for schools to build a comprehensive wellness model, reaching the mindsets and habits of the administrators, teachers, parents, and the students.

My first step in building a strong Coach for Kids program was to build an even stronger team. We are now heading into our 5th year of our Fellowship program with Adelphi University. Almost 100% of our WITS Coaches are graduate students, earning their Master’s Degree in Sports Based Youth Development Physical Education. This highly competitive fellowship has raised the bar and the expectations of our coach program. And its success has garnered the attention of many other universities interested in similar fellowships. The impact of our work has also positioned us as an expert in this academic space, and we were invited to present at SHAPE America in March, one of the leading conferences on fitness education in this country.

We just launched our first Annual Move for Kids campaign, through which several fitness studios and influencers in NYC and Miami raised money for WITS. I received the opportunity to introduce WITS to the international audience of Daily Burn, an online streaming fitness platform with a membership of approximately 2.5 million. Even though the thought of working out on live video was somewhat frightening, I took on the challenge. After the invigorating workout, I was able to share our work in a 10-minute interview. While I was a little sweaty throughout the entire interview, it certainly helped to build our Coach for Kids network. This campaign highlighted so many passionate groups of people that heard of WITS for the first time, who all genuinely want to join our mission in some way.

Workout for Kids – Daily Burn

Does your kiddo love working out with you? Here’s an exercise routine led by Wendy Siskin, Senior Director of Wellness in the Schools, that will get both you and your little one moving.

Posted by Daily Burn on Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It is an exciting time for Wellness in the Schools. I continue to follow the inspiration from our fearless leader and founder, Nancy Easton. I am honored and inspired daily by the leadership role I have been given. My role this year as Senior Program Director has allowed me to view our work with an even broader lens, and as a thought leader. Our work in NYC, the largest school district in the country, remains an incredibly valuable testing market as we develop more programs across the country.

Our WITS culture lives by the Phil Jackson quote, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” In order for our programs to be successful, we must empower our teams to give our schools the tools, the knowledge, and the confidence to be able to sustain them. We are now at a place where our Chefs and Coaches work together as equals, both sides of the coin, teaching as a team to show the power of good food and fitness to end childhood obesity.

I’m consistently challenged and inspired by the work we do and everyone who holds hands with us to empower our younger generations. This is just the beginning.