History of Fitness University

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FRANK SHORTER, JOAN BENOIT JOIN FACULTY AT FITNESS UNIVERSITY FOR KIDS

by Skip Cleaver

It was color and pageantry, flags and banners across the field, as hundreds of kids ran laps around the track at Pennichuck Junior High in Nashua on Saturday, September 12.  It was Fitness University day, and a beautiful day it was, for both the weather and the program.  Brightly smiling youngsters of all ages and all sizes proudly showed the medals hung around their necks.   All proudly wore their colorfully designed Fitness University T-shirts.  Music poured from the professional sound systems of Announcer Rob Powers, and dozens of helpful Gate City Strider volunteers manned the large bright tents and the many loaded tables.  Other GCS members ran with the various groups of excited children.  It was a happening-a glowing kids' happening. 

Olympic Gold Medallists Joan Benoit Samuelson and Frank Shorter are American heroes.  And they were together, in Nashua, running with the kids right here in our communitie-Wow!  Hundreds of cameras clicked and whirred as parents recorded their children's achievements.  They also recorded the chats and autograph sessions with two of the most famous Olympic athletes in the world. Every participant was acknowledged, and every child was a winner at Fitness University finals day.  Hundreds of area kids had the opportunity to take a fun, non-competitive run with Joan and Frank at the Pennichuck Junior High School track on Manchester Street in Nashua.  The ninth annual Fitness University for Kids program educated all participants between the ages of three and fourteen-and also parents and friends--about the benefits of health and fitness, and about the joy of running.  

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Three Deans - Healthsource's Tim Dean (left) with the Deans' of Fitness Joan Benoit-Samuelson and Frank Shorter.

Many of the parents had effervescent praise for the program, relaying their deep appreciation to Co-Directors Shaun Scanlon and Shu Minami of Nashua.  One parent, Joe Wurm of Amherst, reported that, "My girls wore their shirts all weekend, and they even wore their medals to church on Sunday.  My four-year- old, Emily, wore 'My first real medal, Daddy' from the end of her race right through to Monday morning."  "We got some great photos with Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit, and video," he added.  "It was a wonderful experience for our family."

This well-established community program once again featured running as a means of staying healthy and fit for a lifetime.  The program included a health and fitness educational fair, in addition to the age group running events. Hundreds of free gifts were handed out to all runners, including fruit from Brookdale, frozen yogurt from Stoneyfield, Cliff Bars, and All-Sport sports drinks.  The Merrimack YMCA, the American Lung Association, St. Joseph's Stay Fit Program, the Hampshire Hills Athletic Club, the Boys and Girls Club of Nashua, were among the fitness fair participants; karate and gymnastics demonstrations were also included, along with a large number of raffle gifts.

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Many school cross-country teams participated for a fun workout with the world's most famous Marathon Gold Medallists.  Many kids doubled up on their Saturday activities, as a number of soccer teams were represented at this exciting event.   All in all, a wide array of kids participated in the last day of a multi-week program.  Fitness University included seven individual training clinics in seven different communities during the several weeks leading up to Finals Day at the Pennichuck School. 

The program was provided free, thanks to the generous support of Healthsource, the primary sponsor for all nine years of the program.  Additionally, local community support came from many groups and institutions.   Fitness University officials, and the host Gate City Striders, recognized several area businesses for their long-term commitment to the program.  Receiving plaques in recognition for, " Outstanding Service and Commitment to the Community," were Brookdale Fruit Farm of Hollis, Mr. Rick Hardy; Alec's Shoes of Nashua, John Koutsos; and WHOB, B-106 Radio, Ellen Prescott.  All three have been contributing sponsors for all nine years of this outstanding program.  And all three share an ongoing commitment to the larger running community in the Greater Nashua area.

In a novel first time event, ten children of the Gate City Striders raced a demonstration relay, which turned out to be very competitive between the girl's team, Joan's Jets, and the boy's team, Franks Flyers.  The relay began with the two famous Olympians carrying the baton side by side for the first lap before handing off to their teammates.  This group of kids is part of a larger group that has been working out throughout the summer.  They meet each Tuesday evening at the Nashua High track under the guidance of Gate City standouts Bill Spencer and Shaun Scanlon.  This program is open to all kids, whether affiliated with Gate City or not, and has proved to be a tremendous success.  The kids involved own the majority of the New Hampshire age group records for kids seven to twelve.

However, the outstanding features of the Fitness University program are that it is open to any child regardless of experience or ability; and that it is non-competitive, making all kids winners.  Kids can learn to run fast, and they can also learn that running is great fun and tremendously rewarding. Fitness through running is tremendously valuable for kids, and can be a part of their lives forever.  All participants in the program receive an experience to remember, along with their terrific medals.  Who knows, some of those kids may turn out to be an Olympian some day, just like Joan and Frank.  On this day in Nashua, all were gold medal winners.