Jim Nason, the principal at Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, is pumped up. Soon, the school's 500 students will be, too.

The middle school in Colorado Springs School District 11 found out this week that it's one of 12 in the nation to win a $100,000 Don't Quit! fitness center.

"We were kind of dumb-founded," Nason said. "Like, wow, it's pretty cool. We're looking forward to getting it installed."

The gift is the result of a partnership between Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils.

Foundation chairman Jake Steinfeld said a video students entered gave the school the winning edge.

"There were over 100 submissions, everything from hand-written notes to really cool videos, like the one from Jack Swigert," Steinfeld said in a phone interview from California.

The video featured students from the Title 1 school - meaning a high percentage of students are from low-income families - talking about how they could lose weight or firm their bodies, if they had the opportunity to work out on school grounds.

"There's not a lot of gyms in the area, and even if there were, most of our kids couldn't afford a membership," Nason said.

Steinfeld said the foundation also was impressed with how Jack Swigert has improved academic performance on standardized tests in recent years, has added interesting P.E. classes such as archery and pickleball, and provides three meals a day for students.

An old conference room inside the school, at 4220 E. Pikes Peak Ave., will become the new Don't Quit! Fitness Center, with four rows of strength and endurance equipment.

Installation of TuffStuff Fitness International equipment will start around the time classes start back up on Aug. 17. Professional instuctors will train gym teachers and other staff on usage in September, and a ribbon cutting cermeony will be held in October.

The center is expected to be open during and after school and be available for community use at times, such as on the weekends.

Steinfeld - who owns the "Body by Jake" brand of fitness gear and equipment and is the founder of Major League Lacrosse - said he knows firsthand how such an opportunity can be beneficial for children.

"I was a fat kid with a stutter, and when my dad bought me a set of weights at 13, it changed my life," he said. "Academics and fitness go hand in hand. When you put a fitness center in a school, test scores go up, gang violence goes down, kids are healthier, happier and more energized."

They also are less fidgety and more focused, Steinfeld said.

"This is not just about building bodies but building confidence and self-esteem," he said. "With one repetition, they can accomplish something they can be proud of."

The National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils has provided three gyms in each of 21 states, on its way to covering all 50 states. In addition to Colorado, this year's recipients are Louisiana, Maryland and Oregon. Three schools per state received the award.

"These types of partnerships help us advance our commitment to make our state the healthiest in the nation," Hickenlooper said in a news release.


Staff reporter, education and general news and features

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