As the nation's obesity rate continues to grow, Haskell Indian Nations University is launching a communitywide program to promote fitness.
The Trust for America's Health this week released a report that showed obesity rates continued to climb in 31 states last year and that no state showed a decline. Kansas has the 27th highest rate of adult obesity at 23.4 percent and the 24th highest rate of overweight youths at 14 percent.
With such trends in mind, Haskell President Linda Warner wanted to start a health initiative at the university.
"American Indian populations have high incidences of diabetes and also of heart disease, obesity and those kinds of things," she said. "So, I was thinking, 'Wow, why don't we turn ourselves into the healthiest tribal college in the nation?'"
She appointed cross country coach Albert Gipp Jr. to coordinate "Healthier Haskell," a 10-month program that will feature monthly and daily activities on fitness, nutrition and wellness. The activities will include classes and seminars for all ages and fitness levels in the Lawrence community.
"The whole idea is to work on and become fitter," Gipp said.
The focal point of the "Healthier Haskell" initiative will be a walking program in which individuals and teams will keep track of the miles they walk and run during the next 10 months. Collectively, the goal is to "walk around the world," or 24,901 miles.
Lori Tapahonso, executive assistant and public information officer, thinks the community can reach the goal - if 250 people participated and walked 10 miles a month for 10 months, the goal would be accomplished.
"I think this is a neat program that's going to bring people from all over the community together," she said.
Gipp, along with Don "Red Dog" Gardner, who organizes Dog Days workouts every summer at Kansas University, will kick off the program at 6:30 p.m. today at Haskell Stadium. Registration begins at 6 p.m. There will be a brief program followed by stretching and a 2-mile walk or run around Haskell's campus. There will be free pedometers, T-shirts, water and healthy snacks. The event will end with fellowship, which Gipp said is important.
"Healthier Haskell" is about taking care of not only the physical aspects of life but also the emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects as well, he said.
"Hopefully, in this process you will meet new people," he said. Gipp also hopes people will try healthier foods and participate in new types of activities such as yoga or tai chi.
New fitness center
In addition to heading the "Healthier Haskell" program, Gipp will oversee the new Jim Thorpe Fitness Center, the first fitness center open to all Haskell faculty and students. The center is in Jim Thorpe Hall, named after the Olympic athlete who attended Haskell.
Jim Thorpe Hall was a power plant when the building opened and then it was used for storage. During the past five years, it has been used for band rehearsal space and to store instruments.
"Within the last two years, the demand for a campuswide facility has been pretty great," Tapahonso said.
Haskell's facilities department has handled most of the renovation work, which will cost about $100,000. The building has received a new system for air conditioning and heating, as well as windows and doors. About $80,000 of workout equipment has been placed in the center, which is expected to open next week.
Virgil Allen, director of facilities management, said new bathrooms will be added once the funding is available.
Setarah Senthong, a sophomore from Eagle Butte, S.D., said she plans to use the center.
"It gives students something to do besides hang out in the dorms," she said.
Dennison Dugi, a junior from Train Rock, Utah, said the center would be a place where faculty and students could mingle and get to know one another outside the classrooms.
Raylene Hayes, an education technician who works in Navarre Hall, which is adjacent to Jim Thorpe Hall, said it would be nice to have a place nearby to work out.
"It is important for Natives to take care of their bodies," she said. "The center offers an opportunity for them to do that."
Haskell Indian Nations University will launch a free, 10-month, communitywide exercise program called "Healthier Haskell" tonight at Haskell Stadium.
The goal is for participants to collectively walk "around the world" - or 24,901 miles - in 10 months. Besides walking, the program will include classes and seminars on fitness and nutrition.
Registration begins at 6 p.m. and the event starts at 6:30 p.m. with a short program followed by a 2-mile run or walk around Haskell's campus. There will be free pedometers, T-shirts, water and healthy snacks.
Prizes will be given during the course of the 10-month program to recognize achievements. A drawing will be held in May for two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the United States.
For more information e-mail Albert Gipp, "Healthier Haskell" coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.