Health & Medicine

Olympic athletes help kids get moving

Growing up, I longed for this time of year. I could fast-forward through homework or chores, then run outside to play.

Children's activities now are more linked to a TV, a video game or the computer.

Former and current Olympians throughout the country are hoping to change that.

Micki King, 1972 Olympic gold medalist for springboard diving and former University of Kentucky assistant athletic director, is championing a pilot program in Lexington aimed at getting middle school students more active outdoors. Called World Fit, Olympians for Worldwide Fitness, the program encourages students and teachers to find 45 minutes in each school day for students to walk, play sports or just get moving. Lexington is one of 10 communities, totaling about 27 schools, in the pilot program.

King and Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay will launch the six-week program at Beaumont Middle and Winburn Middle schools on April 5, the first school day after spring break.

Program founder Gary Hall Sr. started the effort last year in two public schools in Florida's Dade County. The former Olympic swimmer theorized that after spring break, children anxious to enjoy the warmth would be eager to go outside.

Hall hoped to get students walking about 10 miles each week. When the statistics were in, he learned that students had walked three miles a day.

"It got to be cool," King said. "Comparing distances got to be fun."

Each day, Lexington students must find time to be active. It could be 10 minutes before school, some time during homeroom or at lunch.

Students who are athletes, cheerleaders or dancers can use those activities to fulfill their obligation. Plus, if they can get others in their family to walk, they can claim half of their relatives' distance.

The theme is "Walking to London and Back," a nod to the venue for the 2012 Summer Olympics, where Gay plans to compete.

With 600 students from Winburn and 1,000 from Beaumont, the 4,000 miles between Lexington and London could be accomplished the first week, King said.

So the route to England will go through the host cities for the summer Olympics since the students were born, starting with Atlanta in 1996. That would make the trek 25,000 miles.

The students will walk on measured tracks at each school, and the schools have set up world maps to track the journey.

Each child will enter his or her distances into a computer. "So they are learning math, geography and computer skills," King said. "We want every middle school in Lexington to do this."

She said a report on the program will will be given to other middle schools in town. "When all the statistics are compiled, we'll unleash this nationwide. Any community that wants them, we'll find Olympians for them and have everything all mapped out. This time next year, we'll have thousands of schools involved."

School coordinators are crucial to the program's success, King said. Susan Sallee is the coordinator at Winburn, and Lora Browning is coordinating at Beaumont.

"Having these two women saved my bacon," King said. Gay, a Lexington native who attended Winburn, will encourage students and walk with them at Beaumont from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on April 5, and with students at Winburn from 1 to 3:30 p.m.

The Lexington Rotary Club is footing the bill for Gay's visit from his training site in Arkansas. "This is grass-roots," King said. "We are working for nothing."

King said she'd like to give out T-shirts at the end of the six-week program, but there is no money for that. She's looking for more sponsors. If you'd like to help, e-mail her at

"When it comes to childhood obesity, I like to say there is big talk, but little do out there," she said.

At least until now.