LOS ANGELES — “One, two, three, four...”
If you’ve ever taken middle school physical education, you’re very familiar with the count — often the warmup sounds to a class focused on promoting health and physical fitness.
But unlike your usual PE class, Raiz Lopez-Spears will tell you that their teacher is pretty special.
“It’s nice to have an Olympian come to our school,” he said. “There’s just so many other schools they can go to, but they chose us. So, I’m grateful for that.”
Thanks to a program called Ready, Set, Gold!, the class is being taught by British Olympian Tasha Danvers.
The nonprofit serves over 89 schools throughout Southern California, connecting Olympians, Paralympians and students through sessions that are all about learning fitness tactics and healthy lifestyles, along with various themes meant to help these kids achieve their dreams.
“They’re trying to be great and go to professional,” Lopez-Spears said. “The most important things are eat, sleep and stay hydrated. If you don’t stay hydrated, you’re gonna fall apart.”
For some kids, like Lopez-Spears, he’s getting these lessons face to face and in person, but for about 25,000 total students, the lessons come from athletes who may be miles and miles away.
Throughout the pandemic, Ready, Set, Gold! moved to a hybrid model that allowed for online sessions and programming.
Paralympian Natalia Mayara said she got involved because of so much isolation over the last two years, the series has helped her connect with others.
The students are “able to focus on something they like and have fun and to also be working out when they do that,” Mayara explained. “Connecting with someone else and learning from other people’s perspectives is something I think will touch them.”
Mayara, who lost both of her legs in a bus accident at just 2-years-old, said she hopes her story will not only promote health and wellness, but inclusion as well.
“I feel like the best way is going through the kids, which are the new generation,” she said. “They are going to grow up knowing and understanding that people with disabilities can be athletes. They are strong. They are normal people like you.”
The goals of Ready, Set, Gold! are twofold in that way.
On one side, the program is inspiring goal-setting, perseverance and leadership. And on the other side, it is bringing a little fun back to students who were simply happy to be back together.
“You can be with your friends, not just stuck at home and quarantined, so that’s the best part,” Lopez-Spears said.