She organized her first community fun run and family fitness festival and founded Kids Being Fit when she was 9 years old. (This year, Prince George’s County Park and Planning Department teamed up with her this year for the third annual Kids Being Fit Annual Fun Run & Fitness Event.) She was the youngest youth ambassador selected by Alliance for a Healthier Generation to help fight childhood obesity. And she’s a medaling member of her Junior Olympics taekwondo team.
Jodi Evans is an accomplished 12-year-old. And if that weren’t enough, her mom June credits her with getting her whole family to be more active and more thoughtful about eating healthy.
It’s an understatement to say that Jodi got her start at a young age. Evans knew that her daughter, an active toddler, would need an outlet for all that energy, and she looked into taekwondo. Evans says that for Jodi, then age 4, “it was wonderful because it allowed her to use her energy in a focused way. The students always did exercise before learning movements, so she learned how to expend energy in a controlled way.”
When her taekwondo studio started a Junior Olympics team, her parents let Jodi try out. She made the team, and won bronze and gold medals. Now that she’s 12, taekwondo is an integral part of her life. “It taught us, as parents, that being active has to start when you’re young,” says Evans. “She always wants to go outside and never wants to lounge around, because it’s just who she is.”
FROM TAEKWONDO ENTHUSIAST TO FITNESS ADVOCATE
Jodi’s passion for being active has grown into an interest in helping other others discover the fun and benefits of exercise and healthy eating, with the help of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. An initiative launched by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, the Alliance’s mission to fight childhood obesity includes cultivation of youth ambassadors who can relate with other kids and families. As youth ambassadors, Jodi and her peers get coaching from the Alliance to develop their own service projects. Jodi told her mom, “We just have to make it fun” – and came up and her idea for a kids’ fun run.
The Alliance helped her bring her idea to life with guidance on engaging city and community leaders where she lives, in Bowie, Md. Evans remembers Jodi announced, “Mommy, I need to talk to mayor,” and he asked her to bring her event concept to a city council meeting. At 9 years old, she made her presentation and received access to a location to host her fun run, as well as a special events staffer to mentor her.
To ensure the event’s success, Jodi had followed the Alliance’s guidance to develop her own wellness council. Initially, it comprised her friends from taekwondo who ranged in age up to 16. The older kids brought additional guidance and leadership to the younger set, and the council is still in action four years later. Evans explains, “This was an opportunity for Jodi to learn early on that it’s not about her; she’s doing it for our city, so Kids Being Fit needs the infrastructure to sustain it even if she decides to do something else, later.”
IMPACT AT HOME
June Evans credits Jodi’s leadership skills with a positive influence on the family – potentially the toughest audience for Jodi’s message. “I like to run, and she started asking if she could come with me. She also started urging us to make even better food choices,” says Evans. “Now her younger sister wakes up in the morning and wants to exercise with Jodi.” As a family, they’ve taken up activities like skating and doing Zumba routines at home.
Even for the grownups in her life who know movement and nutrition are important, Jodi has been a catalyst for action. Jodi was learning about food as fuel, and when Jodi’s dad found out he had high triglyceride levels, it was a wakeup call for Evans. “He’s pretty fit, and you think if you look a certain way, you’re healthy,” she notes. The news – coupled with Jodi’s influence – prompted Evans to do more research into the effects that food has on health, and take action to eliminate processed foods and trans fats from the family’s diet. When her husband’s triglyceride levels dropped, it was very clear to the family how much food impacts health.
Jodi’s interests and activities also have led to connections with other organizations including Fit Fathers, founded by Kimatni D. Rawlins, parent of two girls, to inspire other dads to prioritize healthier eating and exercise for themselves and their families. Rollins has become a mentor for Jodi, and the 12-year-old is headlining Fit Fathers Day as “fitness guru,” joining Rollins and celebrity trainer Michael Bance in leading families in a social workout.
Evans is proud of Jodi, and also recognizes that she’s still a kid – and kids change. But Evans has seen Jodi’s growth, and says “she may continue to make that move” and lead and inspire by example. With an enthusiasm that’s evident even in her instructional videos on stretching, it seems likely that Jodi will.
GROWING AN ACTIVE KID
Evans has some tips for parents about nurturing kids’ interest in health and fitness.
- See exercise through the eyes of a 9-year-old. Remember at that age, it has to be fun, not a must do. “In the kids’ eyes, if it’s fun, it will become a habit,” says Evans. The discipline and self-awareness follow. Jodi’s annual half-day fitness event includes a fun run and walk, and fitness activities were added after the first year, because Jodi and her fitness council realized how much kids enjoy them. In 2015, parents got to participate as well. Evans says, “They realized that parents would bring their kids and then stay, so this year, parental participation was a strategic addition.”
2. Show your children how health is the result of multiple influences, not just exercise or just eating habits. And when it comes to food, “I try to educate the girls about what they eat, and knowing what they’re putting in their bodies and how it will affect them,” says Evans, who steers clear of talking about food in terms of negative consequences.
3. Let your kids be put into leadership positions. Yes, it can mean some extra work for parents to take the child to meetings or prepare a presentation. But leading can be rewarding, if your child enjoys it. “It’s amazing the impact they can have on other kids, and how much they benefit from adult mentors,” says Evans.