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Community fights obesity with free program

Residents challenged to lose 1,000 pounds

STERLING – One thousand pounds.

That is what leaders of a new fitness group challenge Sauk Valley residents to lose in 3 months.

It is called “Fighting Obesity as a Community.” People ages 4 and older can exercise and learn about healthy eating, free of charge, Tuesday and Friday evenings, starting tonight, at First Church of the Nazarene.

The goal is realistic if enough people join, according to the group's founder, Samantha J. Parks, 29, of Rock Falls. One hundred people would need to lose only 10 pounds apiece.

Parks attempted to contact producers of NBC's popular weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser,” hoping they will feature the community-wide initiative. Parks will continue to do so persistently, she said.

Helping people get healthy and stay healthy is her passion. Plus, she loves to work out.

“Is that weird?” Parks asked with a laugh.

A medical assistant for the Whiteside County Health Department, Parks said obesity is a big problem in the Sauk Valley. Many are at risk for heart attack, stroke, hypertension and diabetes.

In the United States, obesity-related medical costs totaled about $147 billion in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That made me sick,” Parks said. “It still makes me sick because it's preventable.”

Many people avoid exercise because they cannot afford expensive gym memberships, according to Parks and the group's co-leader, Brodie C. Sharp.

That is why the program is free, the 26-year-old Sterling man said – “so people will come.”

The leaders are graduates of Rock Falls High School – Parks in 2001 and Sharp in 2004. Sharp later earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and health from Olivet Nazarene University.

Instead of a fee, people should bring non-perishable food and toiletry items for Helping Hands food pantry. The group also will support other local charities throughout the year.

The program kicked off Feb. 19 with 12 people of all shapes, sizes and ages. They learned to avoid carbohydrates after lunch, drink a full glass of water before every meal, and other tips.

After a warmup, they experienced circuit training. Upbeat, family-friendly music played while people traveled from station to station to complete several repetitions of strength and cardio exercises – jumping rope, jogging in place, lifting small weights, and doing sit-ups to name a few.

Parks and Sharp encouraged and assisted them; and ended the program with a cool-down. Future sessions may include sports and walks and runs through the community, Parks said.

“Any ideas are welcome.”

Park's daughter, Makenzi, 7, her friend, Trinity Wimbley, 8, of Sterling, and several other children attended the Feb. 22 session. Exercising was fun, the girls said, and something kids should do.

“Then you won't be out of shape,” Wimbley said.

Makenzi agreed.

“Well, you don't just want to be stuck inside every single day and not working out.”

Children and teens are included because one in three are overweight or obese in America, according to the American Heart Association.

“Educating the parent is the most important part,” Parks said, “because they're the ones who feed their children – or run them through McDonald's.”

Two women with disabilities attended the kickoff and were able to do the exercises, according to Rebekah J. Zienty, 34, of Sterling, who brought them to the group.

“It was very inclusive,” she said, “so I thought that was really awesome. We'll be back.”

Working out is easier when members of the community come together to motivate one another, Parks said.

“You have accountability too,” Sharp added. “Plus we're meant to be with other people, to fellowship with other people.”

As Parks helped one woman struggling with obesity, her emotions took over.

“I almost got tears in my eyes,” she said. “This is my dream. It's coming true.”

Free fitness program available

Fighting Obesity as a Community is offered from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays in the gym at Sterling First Church of the Nazarene, 411 13th Ave. It's for anyone 4 and older.

Admission is a donation of nonperishable food or toiletry item for Helping Hands food pantry.

Call Samantha Parks, 815-716-0046, or find "Fighting Obesity as a Community" on Facebook to sign up or for more information.

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