Sterling and Jenny Pratz, owners of Beyond Fitness in Rusk, hope their community outreach efforts may one day stamp out obesity — at least in their rural town.

For the past two years, they have extended their outreach from an after-school program to a four-week fitness camp during the summer.

The campers have their fair share of exercise three times a week, which includes running, drills, playing baseball and other games. During the first week, they were timed on the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes, to be compared to the performances at the last week of camp. The most important aspect of instilling a love of fitness in children, Pratz noted, was to make fitness fun for them.

"They don't realize that they're doing as much exercise as they are doing when they're out there having fun," he said. "It doesn't always have to be hard work."

Wyatt Poole, 12, joined the camp to get ready for football next year, and Jennifer Shimek, 13, wanted to drop some weight.

Jennifer came to the camp last year and is 40 pounds lighter this time around. Her grandfather encouraged her to attend hoping to keep her active.

"I've always been the bigger child," Jennifer said. "I never really enjoyed being big."

Since joining the camp, she's become fond of running and is playing more sports. She also has learned to eat more healthily. She said she'd like to lose 40 more pounds.

Pratz started the program to improve kids' fitness and to mentor them. Obesity is a serious threat to their well-being, he said.

"It starts here," he said. "If we let it go and let it get into the later years of life without letting them know anything about health or exercise, it may be too late. We need to start now so they can get the fundamentals of what they need to be doing to carry on through life."

Pratz knows firsthand about the effects of obesity-related problems, such as type 2 diabetes. His mother and stepfather both have the disease.

"It's already a familiar thing to me and I know what they have to go through," he said. "I want to put these kids in a position where they don't have to worry about that."

Vanessa Bowman looked on as her 11-year-old son Taylor, played baseball with Pratz and other children on Wednesday. She said her family has concentrated more on health lately. Taylor's father, Joey, has lost 50 pounds at Beyond Fitness, and their son has slimmed as well.

"He was getting kind of chubby sitting around playing video games, even though he usually loves sports," Mrs. Bowman said. "But I guess you get locked into playing those video games."

They first encouraged Taylor by sending him to the afterschool program.

"You've got to have them something to do after school that keeps them busy," Mrs. Bowman said. "You just have to put a stop to the video games. Have a time limit."

She said the family doesn't eat a lot less, just better, and they make sure everyone is active.

"We come from a predominately large family… Everyone in our family is large, and we're trying to start a new generation of thinner people."


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