The first lady is partnering with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Partnership for a Healthier America, U.S. Paralympics
DALLAS _ Michelle Obama remembers sitting in front of her television many years ago and watching Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci and Carl Lewis as they competed in the Summer Olympics.
“Like so many others,” she said, “I was awed and inspired by those athletes.”
Mrs. Obama admitted that she was still in awe Monday, when she took the stage with about two dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes to announce a plan to get more than 1.7 million children involved in sports through her “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.
The first lady is partnering with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Partnership for a Healthier America, U.S. Paralympics and numerous national governing bodies that have pledged their time and resources toward introducing young people to their sports over the course of the summer.
“When we first met with these organizations, we challenged them to commit to helping 1 million kids get active in their communities. That was our first target, and we thought that was ambitious,” said Mrs. Obama, who will also be leading the U.S. delegation to the London Games.
“They not only met that goal,” she said, “they added another 700,000 to that commitment.”
USA Gymnastics plans to reach 40,000 additional children, the U.S. Soccer Federation will engage 12,000 youth in afterschool programs, and USA Track & Field is expanding its youth program by 35 percent, and the U.S. Tennis Association plans to reach 750,000 new kids this year. USA Swimming hopes to enroll 530,000 new learn-to-swim participants in its “Make a Splash” program, and engage 70,000 new youth member through local chapters.
“The `Let’s Move!’ campaign is amazing, and it’s something I believe in,” said three-time Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin, who introduced the first lady on Monday.
“I’ve been volunteering with The Edible Schoolyard Project to teach children healthy lifestyles through food, and knowing where food comes from, and `Let’s Move!’ is the other side of that,” Coughlin said. “It’s getting out there and being active and not being sedentary.”
The U.S. Olympians Association recently began a “Walk to London” program during which 5,456 children will walk a total of 5,456 miles _ the distance from Los Angeles to London. Meanwhile, U.S. Paralympics is engaging a combined 87,500 young people through a variety of programs.
USA Volleyball and USA Basketball are also involved in the initiative.
“Many of these kids will be playing sports for the very first time, and that is so important, because sometimes _ as all of you know _ all it takes is that first lesson, or that first class, to get a child interested in a new sport,” Mrs. Obama said.
She began the “Let’s Move!” initiative in February 2010 as a way to promote a healthy and active lifestyle in the United States, where nearly one in three children is overweight or obese. The first lady recently hosted a mini-Olympics event for local school children along with Samantha Cameron, the wife of British Prime Minister David Cameron. She has also appeared on the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser” and with celebrities such as Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon.
“The national governing bodies have all signed an agreement to outline what they’ll do,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “We’re very proud to support the first lady.”
Mrs. Obama has been actively involved in the Olympic movement for years, joining President Obama in Denmark during the final presentation for Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.
In March, it was announced that the first lady would lead the U.S. delegation at the London Games, with the opening ceremony scheduled for July 27. She’ll be following in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton, who led the delegation at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and Laura Bush, who led the way at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
“I am beyond proud to be leading the U.S. delegation,” Mrs. Obama said. “When I’m sitting in that stadium in London, cheering on Team USA, I’ll be thinking about all those young people cheering at home. I’ll be thinking about the power of the games to truly inspire a generation, and I’ll be thinking about how our Olympic and Paralympic athletes can serve as role models for our young people, as examples of the values we want our kids to learn.”
Associated Press writer Dave Skretta