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As Milliken Park Elementary students maneuvered around new outdoor fitness equipment Tuesday, Steve Cox stood by watching and offering instruction and encouragement.

Cox, a trainer with Project Fit America, was on hand as Milliken Park became the latest school in Fremont to receive both outdoor and indoor equipment designed to give students a broad-based fitness experience.

He left the students with an important message.

“The equipment out here doesn’t care how big or small you are, how old or young you are, all it wants you to do is come out here and work as hard as you feel you can,” he said.

Milliken Park received a $7,000 grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation to help purchase the seven pieces of outdoor equipment, and numerous indoor activities and curriculum.

The reason Cox believes programs like Project Fit are so important is because this is the first generation of children that are not expected to outlive their parents.

Cox listed off the 5 Cs that lead to being unhealthy—sugar, salt, soda and sedentary.

Shelley Thayer, a physical education instructor at Milliken Park, agreed with Cox that a sedentary lifestyle is a dire problem.

“It definitely can be a challenge to keep kids motivated and wanting them to get involved with physical activity on their own,” Thayer said. “They want to play on their Xbox, or IPad or even their parent’s cell phones. It’s hard to get them away from that stuff."

With the implementation of Project Fit, students have a fun way to enhance their physical activity. On the outdoor equipment, competition generally drives students to take fitness seriously, Cox said.

Based off of their level of ability, students are given scores of bronze, silver, gold or Kong. Bronze is proficient at the exercise and Kong level is fully exceeding the fitness expectation, he said.

Once kids receive their first bronze completion they generally get excited to push themselves harder to get to the next level.

The ultimate goal is to empower students to take the first step in bettering their overall health.

“We know that if we can empower children—which I said several times today outside, that they get it," he said. "When I look at a child and ask them who is in charge of their fitness, and they respond, ‘the man in the mirror,’ you can see that the candle is lit, that the fire is there.”

Thayer looks forward to getting rolling with the Project Fit curriculum in her P.E. class.

“I’m just really excited about motivating my students by bringing this new program to them,” Thayer said. “I want them to be able to turn this into something they enjoy for a lifetime, and I also really just look forward to them coming to class and working on being healthy and fit.”

Cox first got involved with the Sonoma, Calif.-based organization as a physical education instructor at Watrous Elementary in Des Moines, Iowa. He first experienced Project Fit America after the school received grant funding in 1995.

Already having an established physical education curriculum, the school was the perfect recipient to receive the Project Fit equipment and curriculum, he said.

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A former Olympic silver-medal winning wrestler instructed Cox and his students on proper technique and how each piece of equipment worked.

Cox was hooked.

“He could just climb up this pole and get into a pike position, he was probably in his late 40s at the time,” Cox said. “The kids were just pumped — hyped; they responded to what he was doing.”

Following the training, Cox received a call from Project Fit CEO Stacey Cook asking how the training went. Cox responded that it was phenomenal, but that all of the activities were completed outside.

“I explained that she lived in California, and that around here white stuff starts falling out of the sky starting around November,” Cox said with a laugh. “There was no indoor component.”

Cook acknowledged this, and Cox started formulating indoor activities that could be added to the Project Fit curriculum. After flying to Sonoma to meet with Project Fit board members, he soon joined the team.

Some indoor activities include getting youth active through games using small plastic “fitness cups,” scarves, dice and weighted hula hoops.

Shortly after, Cox became one of 12 instructors who travel the country teaching faculty and students on how to use the fitness equipment provided through Project Fit.

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