BLAZING FITNESS

Shellie Pfohl

Houston, Texas – Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition addressed the attendees of the Running USA Ashworth Youth Awards Luncheon yesterday.  A dynamic speaker, Ms. Pfohl gave an impassioned presentation illustrating the vital importance of getting and keeping America’s youth active.  She acknowlegded the need for assistance in returning physical education to the nation’s schools.  Her message was clear and concise as she preached to what was essentially the choir.  Later, I met Ms. Pfohl in the lobby of the hotel, and asked about the flight of societal hurdles facing today’s children which I’d measured in a previous post WHAT DIRECTION RUNNING USA?

I concluded, “The President’s Council has been around for nearly 60 years, through 11 presidents and spent billions of dollars.  So how would you assess the overall impact of your agency in terms of the nation’s current health status?”

“I agree with everything you are saying,” she began. “But you see, that’s what everyone thinks, that we spend billions of dollars.  Do you know what our annual budget is?  $1.2 million!”

“You’re kidding? That’s it?”

No, in fact, she wasn’t kidding.  The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which began in 1953 under Dwight Eisenhower as a cabinet-level position, is as substantial as the Hollywood back lot western town Mel Brooks used for Blazing Saddles. It’s a facade.  Just for comparison sake, Corn Subsidies in the United States totaled $77.1 billion from 1995-2010.

Then on this morning’s USA TODAY front page I see this featured story: We Must ‘find a cure’ to Save Memories, U.S. launches war to beat Alzheimer’s by 2025”.  Yet to the left of that story, along the Newsline is the blurb, “Skip drive-thru, Burger King tries out home delivery”.

If it weren’t so tragic, I guess it would be funny.  Here we are proposing to spend a real $billion or more to combat Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that causes progressive loss of intellectual and social skills, while at the same time we publicize home delivery of Burger King. We’ve become so busy/lazy as a society that we won’t even go out to the car and drive to the fast-food restaurant anymore?  Are they going to pre-chew that Whopper for us, too?  I’d say it’s a blessing we get Alzheimer’s; it makes us forget to just shoot ourselves.

Thousands of miles away old friend Jack Waitz is in Iten, Kenya witnessing first-hand the factory like manner in which the Kenyans from the Central Highlands continue to churn out world-class distance runners.

“Eye-opening, isn’t it, Jack,” I wrote on his Facebook page.

“For sure, there are mornings with 250!”  Meaning 250 runners gathering to train.

“It’s a numbers/talent/economic/cultural equation that seems beyond the capacity of any other nation,” I replied. “Kenya builds distance runners the way the U.S. builds diabetics.”

And, evidently, Alzheimer’s patients – though Alzheimer’s is only the sixth leading cause of death in America behind such traditional gravediggers as heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.  Good thing we have that $1.2 million from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition working for us. That ought to help make that Alzheimer’s initiative that much more effective.

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WHAT DIRECTION RUNNING USA?

Following this weekend’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas will be the annual Running USA conference set for January 15-17 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. This year’s conference theme is Passing the Torch: Running Toward the Future. The special guest speaker at Monday’s Ashworth Youth Awards Luncheon will be Shellie Pfohl – Executive Director of President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

As Running USA is currently fashioning its own Youth Initiative, it might be instructive to look back at the history of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition as it relates to Running USA’s  Running Toward the Future efforts.

After a report raised concerns about the physical fitness of America’s children relative to their European counterparts in the early 1950s, it was President Dwight Eisenhower (not JFK as many believe) who created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, and confirmed it via cabinet-level status. The Executive Order specified “one” objective as the first Council identified itself as a “catalytic agent” concentrating on creating public awareness. And guess who was the first chairman of the Council? None other than Vice President Richard M. Nixon! Certainly not the man anyone would think of first when fitness comes to mind.

Notwithstanding, a plan of action was developed at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1957, and the first nationwide pilot study of 8,500 boys and girls ages 5 thru 12 resulted in the first national testing program which many of us who are old enough remember quite well. Continue reading