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DC-Area Youth Achieve PALA and Meet the President and First Lady

On November 29, 2010 President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama congratulated 18 athletes from the KEEN Greater DC affiliate of Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN) and 39 students from Maury Elementary School for earning their Presidential Active Lifestyle Awards (PALAs) at a special gathering at the White House.

KEEN is a national non-profit that serves those affected by autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other intellectual disabilities.  Our mission is to accommodate every athlete despite the nature or severity of her or his disability. We even joined Maury students in serenading the First Lady with a healthy living song and got to shake hands with the First Family’s dog Bo.

The Let’s Move! initiative and our participation in the PALA program has helped to remind us all of the basic truth: we must “move” regardless of our abilities or disabilities in order to lead healthier and happier lives.  We were all energized and eager to have fun and exercise together with the goal of achieving our very own PALA!  Each student received a PALA certificate signed by President Obama during their visit to the White House and we were all excited to meet the First Lady, but were surprised when the President dropped in to congratulate us and share the importance of physical activity in his life!

The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) has been working with the athletes from KEEN the past 6 weeks to help them achieve their PALA.  Between mid-September and November 2010, PCFSN staff has attended KEEN’s Saturday sports sessions, volunteering their time to engage with KEEN athletes and encourage them to keep moving.  PCFSN has also included KEEN athletes at their first Council Meeting, a canoe trip on the Anacostia River, and the Let’s Move! South Lawn Series.  On October 7, KEEN was invited to play and exercise with DC United on the South Lawn of the White House with local youth from Maury Elementary School.  Despite sometimes needing the support of a wheelchair or leg braises, everyone felt completely included and engaged in the soccer event.  The kids of KEEN and Maury had the opportunity to run, kick, and laugh together, and the staff from Let’s Move!, PCFSN, and DC United created a unique bond with all of the kids.  For a brief moment in time each child's disability seemingly ceased to exist.

PCFSN has also worked with our friends from Maury to achieve their PALA.  Over the past 6 weeks PCFSN staff has participated in the gym classes of the 4th and 5th graders and also attended the Family Fitness Night.  Outside of their events with PCFSN, the students from Maury and athletes from KEEN worked with their families to complete their required physical activity, which have ranged from walking the dog to gardening!

KEEN is absolutely thrilled that Let’s Move! initiative and PCFSN recognizes the importance of including children and young adults with disabilities in its “Million PALA Challenge” to get one million (or more!) Americans to complete the PALA through September 2011.  People with disabilities are often overlooked and since all types of physical activity are included in the PALA program, it is a great way for everyone—regardless of age, background or ability—to jumpstart or maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This quote of a KEEN parent best sums up what our involvement with Let’s Move! and completing the PALA has meant to our athletes:

“Let’s Move! is doing great things for our nation’s health and fitness, but what really impresses us is that they recognize it’s important for ALL of our children, including those with special needs.  It was wonderful that there was South Lawn event that made ‘normal’ kids feel special and ‘special needs’ kids feel normal.  It doesn’t happen often enough. Thank you.”