AMS brings fitness challenge to students, community

The doors to the school may be shut and classes have moved online, but that hasn’t stopped Aurora physical education teachers Jessica Gallagher and Derek Keasling from continuing their fitness challenge tradition.

“For the last eight years we’ve done this fitness challenge at Aurora where we’ve taken two hours out of the day where the whole school participates in a fitness challenge,” Keasling explained. “They would run and walk laps around the track and it’s kind of like a challenge on themselves to get those miles in.”
In addition to the pride of seeing how many miles they could run in two hours, students would also get pledges for every mile they walked or ran for the Hamilton County Cancer Foundation. In past years students have raised anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 for the charity.
The teachers noted that with current circumstances they can’t hold their fitness challenge as they normally would have, so they are looking at a way to not only encourage physical activity in students, but families as well.
“We are doing a week-long fitness challenge where students can record miles throughout the whole week, Monday through Friday,” Keasling said. “Then we started thinking about it and how it’s a big event for the whole middle school, including staff members. We’re like, maybe we should see if the whole town wants to get involved.”
This led the challenge to be issued for all members of the community to see how much they can walk or run from May 4-8. People are encouraged to track their time, steps or miles to create a personal challenge and some competition for the community.
“This is spread out over five days, but it’s up to the kids on how long they want to go per day,” Gallagher continued. “We’re not putting a time limit so it’s open. They can do something every day, but also do it with their families or their siblings.”
She added that by being outside and walking or running, people can still observe social distancing guidelines.
Keeping this annual tradition going into its ninth year is something that both Keasling and Gallagher believe is as necessary now as ever before for its fundraising efforts.
“Cancer isn’t going away just because we’re in the middle of a crisis,” she explained. “I think we also need the positive and to find a way to get together and do a common thing. We’re still thinking about those families that are affected by cancer and just because it’s not our traditional way of doing this, they’re still on our minds. You just want to keep that going.”
Another reason the team wanted to push the challenge was to help people avoid becoming stagnant in the current situation.
“There are a lot of individuals out there who are very competitive and we’re losing that competing aspect because we’re only around our family,” he said. “It’s easy for big sister to grab little brother and go on a walk, even from the family side of looking at what they did this week and how much they put in.”
Beyond helping the body, Keasling noted that spending time exercising outside can be beneficial for the mind as well. He noted that being active and getting outside can act as a stress reliever.
“Getting fresh air and seeing people who are also doing the same things are going to help the mental aspect,” Gallagher voiced. “Let’s be honest, it’s kind of gloomy if you watch the news all the time. Just getting out and doing something positive gets those endorphins going. It just might make your life a little more enjoyable and spending time with family is never a bad thing either.”
Keasling added that going outside can be a different way for family members to spend time together, and hopes that as the challenge progresses he will see multiple people and families out running or walking.
“This is just having a community-wide purpose for everyone to rally around and seeing what everyone can accomplish,” he continued. “It’s that Aurora pride of just getting out there and doing something special.”
The duo added that it is never too early to start going outside daily or several days a weeks, and not to wait until the challenge starts to begin walking or running.
“Exercise is just so beneficial to you both physically and mentally,” Gallagher said. “Feel free to start now and make that a daily habit. Those habits are a great thing that you can have for your overall health and wellness.”
For those who haven’t been able to be active lately, Keasling noted that it would be best to start slow and not make it so they are sore the next day.
“Let it be enjoyable,” he said. “You don’t have to go out and run seven miles as fast as you can, but go out and get the exercise and enjoy getting that exercise.”
Updated information about the challenge and where to post miles will be shared on the Aurora Middle School’s Facebook page and @AuroraMiddlePE on Twitter.
Those who wish to donate to the Hamilton County Cancer Foundation can send checks to the Aurora Middle School at 300 West L Street.
“I just want to drive the point home that this is about going out and being active, but it’s also about having that awareness to cancer and people’s fight right now,” Keasling concluded. “I think right now with the COVID-19 struggle, we’re so focused on that fight.”

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