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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 24, 2008

Commit to fitness

Illustration by Forest Byrd

When we reached Bill Tindale by phone on a recent wintry afternoon, we could hear he was breathing hard.

"I’ve just come in from running," he said. At 35, he runs three to seven miles a day, six days a week.

"I take Sundays off," he said. Well, even the Creator rested on the seventh day, so we guess Tindale is entitled.

Tindale is the highly-respected cross-country and track coach at Berne-Knox-Westerlo. He practices what he preaches.

We called him because our theme for this week’s special section on Health and Fitness is "Sports for Life." We wanted to know what teachers and coaches can do to instill a life-long love of fitness in their students.

Tindale, who has been coaching for 15 years, said he runs because it’s a habit. "I don’t feel good if I don’t go out on a run," he said. "I’d feel hypocritical being a track coach, asking my kids to work hard if I wasn’t doing the same thing."

Describing the runner’s high, Tindale said, "You get a feeling of accomplishment. People compare it to drugs without the negative side effects."

He went on about regular exercise, "It’s something our young people need. They’re encouraged to go home and play video games. From a teacher’s perspective, the kids most physically active are the best students. I think there’s a direct connection. When you feel good about yourself physically, you’re likely to do well in other things."

Guilderland teachers frequently talk about brain research that shows physical activity increases mental capacity.

Tindale himself started running as a seventh-grader at Duanesburg, to get in shape for basketball. "It became my focus," he said.

Tindale teaches sixth grade at BKW and tries to get his students interested in sports — playing them, not just watching. "I try to get them young, before they’re ingrained in an unhealthy lifestyle," said Tindale.

While running is often seen as an individual sport, Tindale makes it a team sport. He talks to each of the kids on his team daily and e-mails them regularly. "We encourage relentlessly," he said. "I try to be involved not just in sports but in their personal lives, too."

Tindale also works out with the kids on his team when he’s not supervising. "The kids are a lot less likely to complain about a hard workout if the coach is out there doing it with them," he said. "When the team is successful, the kids motivate each other. When I first started, I had to get on kids’ cases to work out on their own. Now, I have to tell them to take a day off. Positive begets positive."

The training doesn’t end with the school year. Tindale has started a summer running program at Camp Pinnacle, staffed by runners from his team who have graduated.

While 10 to 20 percent of his runners go on to compete on college teams, Tindale estimates 50 to 75 percent continue to run recreationally. "A lot of my former runners stop by my house or classroom," he said.

While coaches and physical-education teachers we’ve written about in recent years, like Tindale, provide role models for students, it’s not enough. We’ve all seen the statistics on our nation’s obesity epidemic. During the decade from 1991 to 2001, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s Annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system recorded a 61-percent increase in obesity.

Over 108 million American adults weigh more than is healthy. And obesity in children is rising, too, as they become overweight at earlier ages. Among school-age children — between ages 6 and 19 — fourteen percent are considered overweight or obese, according to National Center of Health statistics.

Early obesity increases the risk of adult obesity and increases risk factors for cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance, leading to a dramatic increase in Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Type 2 used to be called "adult onset diabetes" but not any more, since so many children are now afflicted.

Tindale gave us some sage advice. "It’s important for the parents to get out and show the children they’re serious about being fit," he said. Tindale and his wife have two children, ages 6 and 3. "My oldest goes out with me and we’ll run together once in a while," he said.

"They don’t have to be a great athlete," he said of parents running or doing other sports with their kids. "Kids are going to do what their parents do."

Recreational meets can be found online any weekend of the year, said Tindale, where the atmosphere is fun and supportive. "Everybody encourages one another. The crowd cheers for the last person with the same intensity as the first. It’s something families can do together, like biking or swimming."

OK, let’s admit it; most of us aren’t going to run six or seven miles a day like Tindale. But each of us can make a commitment to fitness — say half-an-hour a day of brisk walking. That’s a start.

We’ve also included some advice in our Health and Fitness section this week from local health practitioners on how to avoid injury when taking up a sport.

The choice of activity doesn’t matter; consistency and commitment do. Our section highlights a retired couple who are ardent hikers. Russell Dunn and Barbara Delaney share their love of the outdoors by leading hikes and by writing guidebooks.

"We live in this land of opportunity," said Dunn. "If you want to get out and exercise and have fun, there’s all kinds of possibilities...."

Keeping in touch with nature is as good for the soul as exercise is for the body. Walking in the woods and fields can renew us. Even without a destination, like one of the glorious waterfalls Dunn and Delaney describe in their guidebooks, our thoughts are drawn inward and our spirit upwards.

Old Mountain Phelps, of Adirondack fame, use to describe the feeling he had when high on a mountain as one of "heaven up-h’isteness," akin perhaps to Tindale’s runner’s high.

Each of us should find an activity we enjoy and pursue it. "We encourage relentlessly," as the coach said.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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