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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Paralympian: Anybody can become active

By Leslie Goldman
Special to espnW

Michelle Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama pumps up the 6,000 Chicago kids for an energetic workout.

Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, Sarah Reinertsen, Allyson Felix, Bo Jackson and Colin Kaepernick led 6,000 Chicago schoolchildren in a supercharged mid-day workout to kick off First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Active Schools initiative.

With Katy Perry and Bruno Mars blasting throughout Chicago's McCormick Place, the celebrity athletes jumped, squatted and kicked alongside the students after Obama announced her Let's Move! anti-obesity expansion, which will provide resources to teachers, administrators and parents in an effort to help bring physical activity back to America's schools. Nike announced its pledge to invest $50 million toward the cause, and Obama reflected on her own favorite childhood activities, revealing, "I jumped double-dutch -- still can actually."

Michelle Obama and Serena Williams
Serena Williams helps spread the first lady's message to bring physical activity back to the schools.

Ironman triathlete and Paralympian Reinertsen sat down with espnW after the event, which culminated with a surprise Jordin Sparks performance, to explain why this cause is close to her heart.

espnW: Only six states require physical education in every grade. Why is this a problem?

Sarah Reinertsen: We have a real health crisis in this country, and we need to get our kids more active. I've become more aware of the growing epidemic of diabetes, specific because I'm an amputee and diabetes is the No.1 cause of amputation in America. Our kids are experiencing early-onset heart disease and getting diabetes younger and younger. So it was a natural when I was asked to be a part of it.

Additionally, having a disability, I thought it was cool to be on stage to show kids that I can adapt to things. Any type of body can become active. Like when everyone was hopping to the left, I would just move down a little lower to adapt to the move. I think a lot of kids think, 'I'm not fit yet, I don't have the right kind of body [to be active].' No matter what kind of body you have, you have the potential to be an athlete.

espnW: What were some of your favorite childhood activities?

SR: Because of my disability, I've gravitated towards individual sports [in my career], but as a kid, I loved team play -- Ghost in the Graveyard, TV tag, freeze tag, pickup soccer games in the backyard, skiing on family vacations.

In sports, as a kid, I would often be told I couldn't play with the other kids because of my disability. My parents signed me up to be on the town soccer league, and the coach wouldn't let me play. I sat on the sidelines while they did drills and ran scrimmages. I was used to being excluded. Let's Move! is about inclusion. The First Lady talks about making choices -- I had a choice: I could let my coach crush my spirit, but instead, it fueled it. That coach came to a Nike event of mine a few years ago, and he apologized. I said, 'I need to thank you, actually. I've been trying to prove you wrong all these years.'

espnW: Today we learned about the link between physical activity and academic success for kids. Have you personally found a connection between moving and thinking clearly?

SR: Yes! Not only when I was a student, but I find that in my post-graduate life, the same is still true. [Being active] clears your head out. I often say that some of my greatest professional inspirations have come not when I was sitting behind a computer, not when I was on my couch, but when I'm on my bike or out on a run.

espnW: What advice would you give for people looking to start training?

SR: Getting started is the hardest part. Sign up for an event -- give yourself something to train towards. Find a training partner to go to gym with. I have so many training partners; one of them is 75, and she's training for her 19th Ironman. On those days when I don't want to [work out] I know Mickie's gonna be there, waiting for me.

If you skip a day or two, don't get down on yourself. Every day is a new opportunity. It's easy to get discouraged if you haven't been to the gym in a week or two weeks. Try to start with a reasonable goal -- start with a 5K, not a marathon. Or your goal can be to go to the gym three times a week for half an hour. It's about consistency.