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Local News

Having a heart for fitness

Plainfield school promotes a healthy lifestyle with fun events

Each February, Jimmy Gerdich heads out to the garage with a jump rope, hoping to make his sons proud.

That’s because for the last four or five years, Gerdich has participated in “Beat the Dads” at Ridge Elementary School in Plainfield, starting when his son, Nolan, was a student there. This year’s event was Feb. 6.

“Beat the Dads,” in which students compete against 10 dads in a jump rope competition, is part of the Kids Heart Challenge, sponsored by the American Heart Association and now in its 40th year.

With the Kids Heart Challenge, children learn about their heart in fun and engaging ways. They also have an opportunity to raise money for their schools.

While some of the other Joliet-area schools also participate in the Kids Heart Challenge, Gerdich said Ridge is the only one he knows of that turns the challenge into an exciting extravaganza of events.

Ridge’s “Beat the Dads” is one of the most popular events, he said.

“Everyone wants to have a team and participate,” Gerdich said. “Parents take time off work to jump or count jumps.”

Promoting heart health

Connie McGrath, who coordinates the Kids Heart Challenge at Ridge with the other two gym teachers – Ulf Larsson and Jeff Luoma – said it’s not only students and two teams of five dads each who jump. Teachers and administrators also form teams.

And the event is not only all jumps and twirls.

“We’re just trying to promote a healthy lifestyle,” McGrath said.

Ridge kicks off the three-week program with a huge heart-shaped obstacle course in the gym. Using mats, hoops, ladders, tunnels and bean bags, students in their physical education classes experience the workings of a heart.

“Then for about two weeks we do fun fitness games to get their heart pumping,” McGrath said.

Discussions about heart disease, including its link to childhood obesity, and pediatric heart abnormalities are among the discussions, McGrath said. In the past, Ridge has raised $10,000 to $15,000 for the AHA, with $500 to $800 coming back to the school.

The “Beat the Dads” challenge is held during the last week.

Feb. 6 was Gerdich’s last “Beat the Dads” competition because his son, Carter, a fifth-grader, will move onto middle school next year. Despite his experience, jumping rope for two minutes is not as easy as it sounds.

“It’s not like lifting weight,” Gerdich said. “Jumping rope is a cardio all its own. The first minute is fine, and then the lactic acid starts building up in the calves, but the kids are clapping and music is going.”

Aaron Stawikowski didn’t have any trouble jumping rope, which he called “quick and fun.” But then, Stawikowski, an Aurora firefighter, jumps rope as part of his fitness program. 

His team didn’t win (“We missed it by two jumps,” he said), but all the dads high-fived each other anyway.

For Stawikowski, the best part of the event was making his son, Jaxon, smile.

“Prior to jumping rope, they set it up in a gym like a DJ booth with music,” Stawikowski said. “They announce the dad’s name and the kid’s name. I had Jaxon on my shoulders. He was waving his hands and proud to be up there in front of his classmates.”

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