ANADARKO, Okla. – Once their feet are held down it’s time to curl up and repeat the motion 25 times.
In groups of two or more, students from Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Okla. lie down on a blue plastic mat with their knees bent and feet anchored by a personal trainer.
They burn through as many as 25 sit-ups then spring up to test their aptitude in the vertical jump.
They’ve already hammered through push-ups, received a nutrition orientation, and had their blood pressure, height and weight checked. The kids are now members of Strong Warriors Weightlifting Club, now known as Native Strong. The club, based at the Comanche Nation Fitness Center in Lawton, Okla., is a dimension of the Comanche Nation Diabetes Program. It’s designed to teach healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle in order to reduce the development of diabetes. Riverside Indian School is now the clubs’ first chapter.
“We are all doing this because it benefits the kids and that’s the main thing,” Toqua-Hanai Ticeahkie, co-founder of the club, said. “I have a heart for these kids because I used to work out here.”
In order to expand Native Strong to the students, the club networks with the Lawton Indian Hospital Diabetes Program, Comanche Nation Diabetes Program and Riverside Indian School. Each program in this network has their own grant that requires different data. The school incorporates the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant.
“With the PEP program, it’s not just exercise there’s also a nutrition program,” Babette Dobson, physical activity grants coordinator for Riverside, said. “It is a wonderful resource. I’m really excited about this.”
The PEP grant is a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education and can be applied for by any school and received once. The club will be at Riverside as an after school program on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s for the 2010-2011 school year.
“If it continues to be a success, we’d love to continue the partnership,” Tony Dearman, Riverside superintendent, said. “The kids are excited … it’s good they know how important it is.”
Riverside currently has 520 students living on campus who represent 70-80 different tribes. When the idea of having Native Strong on campus was considered, Dearman said they talked about the pride of being Native American. He hopes the program not only increases exercise, but also gives the children self-esteem, motivation and the ability to make wise choices.
The school has two workout rooms, one with free weights and the other with cardio equipment. Students in the club will be guided by Native Strong employees, who are all certified trainers and can provide personalized training for each student. The progress of each student will be tracked as well.
Dearman said he is excited about the positive impact and hopes to see it stream into the classroom and benefit each student across the board.
The Lawton Indian Hospital Diabetes Program will help with the nutrition and diabetes prevention education aspect of the program. The students’ syllabus will consist of information from the American Diabetes Association, Indian Health Service and the Diabetes Education in Tribal Schools (DETS) curriculum. The school’s cafeteria menus will also be evaluated and, if needed, suggestions will be made to create healthier choices so students can learn healthy eating habits while they’re young.
“I am sure that in the course of this year spent working with these kids there will be an increase in knowledge of healthy behaviors, which will hopefully be put into practice for the rest of their lives,” Claire Banks, Lawton IHS dietitian, said. “Our Tribal Health Board here at the hospital very strongly supports working with youth. This partnership with the Comanche Tribe and the Riverside Indian School will be very beneficial for all three organizations. Our funding is dependent on generating meaningful data which demonstrates a beneficial change as a result of intervention.”
Ticeahkie said the club’s original name of Strong Warriors was changed to Native Strong so the female students would not feel left out. He said their fitness instruction has also expanded. In addition to weightlifting they’ll teach group aerobics, boot camps, yoga, cardio, and circuit training.
Nearly 50 students signed up for Native Strong on the first day, and Dobson said the students are excited about the program and are always waiting and ready for the Native Strong crew to arrive.
“It feels good to be a part of something never done before,” Ticeahkie said. “Things are working out for us … because we’re willing.”
Ticeahkie said success will most likely find people who are willing to help, and the collaboration between the different programs allows them to touch more people.
Ticeahkie noted that Native Strong will soon begin at the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma as well.
Information given to Riverside students states that strength is having a physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well being, and “Native Strong is a lifestyle that embodies the pride of who we are as a people, our strength to endure and the power of positive change.”