Special Interview with Boise’s Olympic Gold Medalist, Kristin Armstrong
First Lady Michelle Obama announced a new campaign—“Let’s Move”—in February that that has made headlines across America because of its ambitious but important goal of eliminating the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. The campaign is taking a comprehensive approach to engage both the public and private sectors in helping children become more active and eat healthier within a generation, so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
Community leaders, teachers, doctors, nurses, moms, and dads have joined The First Lady in the campaign to tackle this challenge.
So, when I was investigating how Let’s Move (letsmove.gov) can have an impact in the Treasure Valley, one name came to mind—2008 Olympic gold medalist, cyclist Kristin Armstrong. Yes, we have many great organizations in the Treasure Valley to help get kids moving and eating healthier. But as a parent, I wanted to talk to a local role model who has the ability to show parents and kids first-hand that by taking the Let’s Move campaign to heart at a local level, we can make a difference in ensuring our kids live a healthy lifestyle.
Here is what Kristin had to say about how physical activity became such an important part of her life. What was so great about getting Kristin’s thoughts about getting kids active and moving was that she made it clear that not every kid has to aspire to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy a successful, active lifestyle:
Q: What are your first memories as a kid related to activity, exercise, or sport?
A: One of my first memories as a kid was when I was 7 years old and decided that I was going to try out for the swim team. Why? Because my big brother was on the team. My parents brought me down to practice one afternoon and the coach said, “Okay Kristin, I would like you to jump in and swim from one end to the other (25 yards).” I hopped in the water and made it about 10 yards before I had to swim to the side and grab the wall. The coach said, “Congratulations, practice begins tomorrow.” Later in life my parents told me that the coach from day one believed that he could teach me to swim. He saw the determination I had, and most important, they needed more 8 & unders!
Q: Was there one particular memory that made you decide you always wanted to be active?
A: I grew up as a military brat and moved every three years across the world. Youth sports were the way I met new kids. My first memory was moving to Okinawa, Japan at age 5 and signing up for soccer. I instantly met kids my age and my parents instantly met other parents.
Q: Did you have a mentor or mentors that inspired you?
A: My brother who was four years older than I, and of course my parents. But, I wanted to do anything and everything my brother did.
Q: How can parents and/or mentors keep activity positive for kids?
A: While growing up, my parents always let me choose what activity I wanted to be involved with. I chose activity based on how much fun I felt I would have. Kids want choices. Instead of saying, “Kristin, do you want to play soccer this season?” or “Kristin, I signed you up for soccer,” they took the approach of giving me choices. They said, “Kristin, there are three sports this fall—which one do you want to play...soccer, softball, or swimming?” I made my own decision. But, once I made a decision, I had to stick with it. I remember one season I chose to play softball and I absolutely HATED it. I came home and wanted to quit. My parents said, “You don’t quit. Next season you can choose not to play softball again but once you make a commitment, you stick with it.” That was a big lesson l learned along the way.
Q: How early should activity begin as a child?
A: Activity is just like anything in life…the sooner you make it a part of your lifestyle, the easier it is. As soon as they are ready, whether it is a parent-child swim class or taking them to the playground… A healthy lifestyle begins on day one.
Q: Should parents be worried about injury related to kids and activity?
A: We can sit around and worry about what might happen. Most activities have some sort of risk factor involved. I always take the approach…live life. If you are referring to injuries such as [those from] overtraining, this is a problem with all ages involved in activity. You do have to know that there are different stages in [a child’s physical] development [and some sports are riskier than others at certain stages].
Q: Any other advice you have for parents and kids?
A: Lead by example, let your kids be involved in activities they are interested in. And, most importantly, support them by going to watch their practices, performances and games. Be involved!
Stephanie Worrell is a Treasure Valley wife and mother who is dedicated to making sure her kids have the opportunity to enjoy a happy and healthy childhood. She is a freelance writer, speaker, and award-winning communications consultant who can be found at www.oshouldknow.com.
Kristin Armstrong’s Bio:
Born in 1973 into a military family of four, Armstrong spent her early childhood in Tennessee and California and attended high school in Japan. By the time she was 17, she had become a Junior Olympian in swimming. She excelled as a triathlete and even competed in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. As a professional triathlete, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Running was out of the question, but cycling was considered her best therapy. Within a short time, a relatively inexperienced cyclist became an Olympian and World Champion. She has become one of the most accomplished American cyclists of all time.
Armstrong currently makes her home in Boise with her husband, Joe Savola. Along with her athletic career spanning two decades in several sports, she also managed to succeed as a college graduate and is a project manager at an ad agency. She holds a B.S. in sports physiology from the University of Idaho. Always one to give back to the sports that have given her such success, she is a dedicated swimming instructor and coach. She serves as an ambassador to the Treasure Valley Family YMCA, and provides support and inspiration to the millions of Americans who suffer from arthritis.