Groovin’ on Movin’ : A Model for Movement

A few short years ago, when life seemed to be going in a different direction, USA women’s’ silver medalist Kate McFetridge was using her intellectual prowess to battle pediatric obesity.   At that time she was a pre-med student, studying diligently to become a physician. The complication was that she loved, loved, to row: “I love the quiet and peacefulness of being on the river and getting in tune with the water lapping on my boat,” she said to me, eyes sparkling.  But Kate didn’t just love to take a Saturday stroll in her boat. Kate loved to row more than she loved most other things, and…she was good at it!  At 5’10”,  her strength and endurance complimented her pure delight in one activity that gave her life real meaning. So, good student that she was, she went to a Professor with her quandary about whether to pursue an amateur athletic career in women’s sculling, or whether to go full tilt to Medical school. His humane answer?  “Do what you love. Row. You can always become a Doctor.”  And row Kate did.  Kate rows. Practices. Eats. Sleeps. And rows some more.  Every single day. She works out 30 hours most weeks.

I met Kate, now a certified fitness instructor,  when she was teaching adult advanced swimming at a luxury health club. I was taken by her huge grin, her “Yes, you Can!” way of coaching, and her ability to observe tiny details in my stroke, as I tenaciously tried to reach greater endurance in the sport that has, lifelong, provided me with year after year of pleasure. “Use your hands as windmills,” she advised me, as I back stroked my way across the Olympic sized pool. “Let’s find a video about that so you can see it in action.” And, 30 seconds later, an ex-lifeguard turned champion athlete was showing me how. Impressive.

As soon as Kate found out my profession, she was in my office, telling me she had interest in psychology. And, within days, she had become an intern at The Coche Center, specializing in assisting me in leading a program for doubly diagnosed post-menopausal women for whom weight loss was prescribed as medically necessary due to physical illnesses (a pacemaker, cancer survival, arthritis) and emotional illness (addiction, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder).  It is realistically challenging for these women to regain the fitness they need. But, since Kate and I both like puzzles, we were a well suited team. Success for these women is often measured in small percentages: the road to health is tough to maneuver and has no magic bullets.  But Kate and I persevered, and Kate moved from Intern to Athletic Health Coaching Consultant last month, having decided to start her own health coaching business.  A new business would be plenty to keep most of us busy, but it is far from the main event in her life.

Kate McFetridge hopes, no, plans,to be a women’s sculling representative to the United States Olympic Team in 2016. And what is more, if her past record is a crystal ball, you can count on it! She has a way of setting high goals and reaching them.  In 2015, she took the coveted silver medal for the United States in women’s open single sculling in the Canadian-based Pan-American Games. What will she do in 2016? Not likely much less!

I cannot imagine a better role model for my granddaughters, who thrive on a diet of gymnastics, swimming, dancing, and hanging upside down at playgrounds. Ariel, the Disney Princess who moves in water, is one of their favorite Disney characters.  So it was pure pleasure when, last week, Sara, “almost 6”, and Ava, 9, joined me in a very special invitation.  We were invited to get a personal tour of her Kate’s world at Vesper Boat Club, the esteemed rowing club with a track record of Olympic stars.

The chemistry that began when Kate met Ava and Sara was pure magic. Within minutes after a big welcoming hug, she had them sitting on ergometer machines to learn rowing.  She instructed them to  “pull hard and fast, then glide slowly” to create the needed rhythm to do what Kate does so elegantly.  She showed us her $12,000 scull (or boat), donated to her Olympic campaign by someone who believes in her. And we followed her on a brief tour of the 1865 era Vesper Boat Club, where we got to see how the women’s locker room and the club room filled with old photographs of Olympic champions. In the locker room, Kate pulled out her Pan-Am medal, which weighed in on my hand as a pound or so of sterling silver!  The girls left Kate informed and inspired about how to make life work as a woman athlete with brains. 

 I became dedicated to work with obese adolescents and adults many years ago when I was hired as a behavioral specialist for women who ate too much for emotional reasons.  Working first at The University of Pennsylvania, before working at The Coche Center, LLC, I have assisted hundreds of obese adults in gaining control of their bodies over three decades, studying and taking workshops to keep abreast of current thinking.  I am sad to say that, in the 1970s and 80s, the United states was ignorant of the dangers of sugar addiction, of sitting too long in one place, of crash diets, of fast foods. In the 21stCentury , the USA  has finally begun to understand the central importance of taking advantage of what Michelle Segar, Ph.D.,  calls “Your OTM,” or, Opportunity To Move. Basically, any activity that you love invites you to move your body, and moving your body is your personal insurance policy against future regrets about less than optimal health.

Kids and teens who are obese do not love to swim, to row, to bike, to dance, to hang upside down at playgrounds. What’s more, they are unable to do so with ease and endurance.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers chilling information on the danger for our future if obesity continues to overwhelm the health of  so many of our future adults.  

·     Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

·      The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years,  who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.

·      In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.1

  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. As children, obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, while obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes. Both are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. When these children become adults, they are more at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis, and many types of cancer. First Lady Michelle Obama has dedicated her skill to leading a task force for “Let’s Move,” the US government’s campaign to stop childhood obesity.

Ava and Sara were fortunate to learn very early to love strawberries, apples, watermelon. I can attest to how many strawberries they can eat in 24 hours! And, they are fortunate to be driven to gymnastics practice many times weekly by busy parents committed to the health of their children. Ava and Sara, like Kate, and many of us who take pleasure in moving through space or water, simply love to be in motion. And to create one’s own motion is joyful for them. Their slim, lithe bodies effortlessly practice cartwheels, back flips diving into the bay or their private neighborhood swim club.  

 Knowing and learning from Kate is an honor and privilege for Ava and Sara.  Even brief contact, reinforces their internal association of fun with moving in space and water.  At 5 and 9, they understand how to make best use of their OTM (Opportunity to Move). And this assumption, to move in space as a part of being human, is one of their great gifts.  Thank you, Kate, for helping Ava and Sara know what it means to be a princess of movement.  Next week, Ava and Sara and I intend to fully enjoy the bay, the ocean, and the bike paths in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Lucky us!

To Consider:  Do the children you love delight in moving in space and water? What are you doing to encourage their drive for best health? What might happen if you increased your support of eating strawberries instead of strawberry milkshakes?

To click on:  Let’s Move.  Michelle Obama used CDC (Center for Disease Control …   ) data to prevent further obesity in children and adolescents.

To Read: Michelle Segar, PhD. No Sweat. American Management Association. 2015. New York


Norris Clark