BOXING CHAMPION LAILA ALI coaches Kentwood Elementary student Darren Thompson, wearing a boxing robe, as he hits the speed bag during a “Live Like a Champion” workshop October 29th.

Students at Kentwood Elementary School in Westchester recently got a lesson on healthy living and ways to “fight” obesity from a boxing world champion who is also the daughter of a legend in the sport.

Laila Ali, daughter of boxing icon Muhammad Ali, paid a visit to Kentwood Elementary October 29th as part of the “Live Like a Champion Tour,” which aims to combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity by teaching children the importance of eating healthy and staying active in a fun way. Currently in its fourth year, the four-month tour travels throughout the state in a campaign to empower children to make healthier lifestyle decisions.

The tour travels to schools, community events, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs in areas across the state, particularly underserved communities, tour manager Vince Tuley said. The program, a partnership between the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and Anthem Blue Cross, helps motivate youngsters to battle obesity through interactive games and sports-themed activities.

One athlete who knows something about fighting obstacles is Ali, who joined the tour with her “Champ Corner” and brought the hands-on physical education activity to test on some Westchester school students.

“It is an honor to take on this role with the Governor’s Council and the Live Like a Champion Tour,” said Ali, a five-time boxing world champion who is new to the tour this year. “I am committed to promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles and hope that children learn the importance of exercise and a balanced diet through the Champ Corner.”

Third through fifth graders at Kentwood challenged themselves in Ali’s workshop through such conditioning activities as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and jumping rope. Some even played the part of a boxer, putting on a robe, and stepping into the ring to punch the speed bag.

Tuley said it’s exercises like these that are both challenging and fun that start children’s interest in being active.

“That’s what we’re all about — to show how fun it can be to be active,” Tuley said of the program.

Ali is just one of several world-class athletes with ties to California who are involved with the tour, each offering their own skill set to influence youngsters to be healthier. Other champion athletes on the tour are Super Bowl champion Jerry Rice, Olympic beach volleyball champion Misty May-Treanor, Olympic basketball champion Lisa Leslie and World Cup soccer champion Julie Foudy.

The athletes discuss the importance of physical fitness to the schools they visit and share their favorite exercises and healthy foods on posters displayed at the events.

While Laila’s father is one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history, Tuley said she too is a role model for youngsters, especially girls, as a woman who has risen to the top of her sport.

Tuley pointed to the significant problem of childhood obesity, citing a recent report that found that nearly one in three children ages ten to 17 in California are either overweight or obese. Representatives of Anthem Blue Cross said physical activities, such as those demonstrated on the tour, offer a variety of benefits to youths maintaining a healthy life.

“Encouraging healthy eating and activity routines can help children stay healthy and focused,” said Harvinder Sareen, director of clinical programs at Anthem Blue Cross. “Research shows that active and well-nourished children have stronger bones and muscles, higher self-esteem and improved performance at school.”

Roberta Guarnieri, a first-grade teacher at Kentwood Elementary, said many of the school’s students and parents are already active and school officials encourage healthy food choices, but it’s important to teach how they can stay that way throughout their life.

“We want them to become lifelong learners of healthy living,” said Guarnieri, who works as a coordinator for the Governor’s Council.

Efforts like the athletes’ workshops on the tour can teach children some of the simple ways that they can become fit, Guarnieri said.

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