On May 10, 2011, I met a Super Bowl MVP and an Olympic gold medalist–in the same day. That was a first for me, and these were only some of the sports celebrities gathered in a spectacular chamber in a US Senate Office Building. The occasion was even more special because I was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Most of the other awardees came to that moment mainly through sports. One of the more interesting awardees brought Tae Kwon Do to the US and is in the Black Belt Hall of Fame. Pretty cool. Because I was a scrawny, poorly coordinated kid, I arrived by a different route, though I did enjoy all the hours I spent playing sports in my neighborhood. My connection to sports and fitness is through health research. Though physical activity research is often in the news, I admit to being jealous about the attention paid to genetically-superior athletes who perform incredible feats of endurance, strength, skill, and determination. Think about all the media exposure for sports each week. The irony is that appreciation of sports performance inspires a lot more sitting and watching than active emulation. Part of the job of physical activity promoters is to get sports fans (and everyone else) off the bleachers and the sofa and out onto the field, the road, the court, and the trail. I’m glad the President’s Council is bringing the sparkle of sports celebrities to the goal of getting Americans more active.
SPARK had a lot to do with me getting this award. There are many physical activity researchers who have published papers and been vocal advocates for active living. However, few of us have been fortunate enough to see our research lead directly to improving the lives of millions. Over the years, SPARK has certainly provided millions of young people with enjoyable, skill-building physical activity. This is possible because of the thousands of teachers and recreation leaders SPARK has trained–and trained well. I assure you that the fantastic accomplishments of SPARK are reward enough. It’s very nice to get an award, but important to recognize that SPARK’s success, as well as the contributions of many research collaborators, made the award possible. Even better than the award is seeing that SPARK just keeps getting better. More programs. More partners. More research and evaluation. Smart use of technology to support teachers. More activity for more people. There are more rewards coming for SPARK. Which awards can we nominate SPARK for?