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Kids’ Track Meet Celebrates Health And Fitness

Thousands of low-income children are learning to live a healthy lifestyle. Some are even pursuing Olympic-sized dreams, thanks to this week’s Jefferson Award winner.

More than 1,000 kids aged 4 through 18 paraded into UC Berkeley’s Edwards Stadium with their track clubs on a recent sunny Saturday morning. They raised their hands to pledge to do their best. Then they took to the track to go for the gold.

Dr. Mark Alexander created this track meet in 2002. It’s part of the Youth Movement Program he founded for the 100 Black Men of the Bay Area.

“We designed this program as a hook to get young children involved in embracing healthy lifestyles,” he explained.

As an epidemiologist, Dr. Alexander recognized many children were at risk for health problems because they weren’t getting enough exercise.

“Many of these kids had never done push ups before in their lives!” he reported.

So he developed the Youth Movement Program to improve the health and fitness of low income Bay Area children. It offers mentoring and year-round school clinics in strength training, good nutrition, and character development. Dr. Alexander developed the track meet as a celebration, and named it the Tommie Smith Youth Track Meet after his own Olympic hero.

Tommie Smith gave the black power salute while receiving the gold medal for the 200 meter race in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

“Because he was an amazing athlete, because he was a courageous social icon, we decided to name this meet after him,” Alexander said.

Smith has attended all 13 track meets in support of Dr. Alexander’s work.

“You hear all this in the background?” Smith said. “That’s joy, that’s love, that’s continuous of being a part of something.”

As a leader and mentor, Dr. Alexander helps kids like Briona Rivera get a running start in sports and school.

“He’s like a grandpa to me,” she said. “He helps me with everything. He checks up on me.”

Thanks to Dr. Alexander, Christopher Pearson hopes his first place finish is not his last.

“My dreams are just to make it to the Olympics one day and get a gold medal,” he said confidently.

This summer, the track meet’s best athletes will go to Taiwan for the International Children’s Games. Last year’s games were in The Netherlands, where the girls brought back gold in the relay.

So for creating a program to teach inner-city kids a healthy lifestyle, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dr. Mark Alexander.

 

By Sharon Chin

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