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Program aims to get sedentary kids moving

If Tom Schneider has his way, the image of chubby, pasty children hunkered down in front of their computers or personal devices will become a thing of the past.

Schneider is the creator of TRUE Fit, a training regimen that he hopes will promote activity and a healthy lifestyle among people of all ages. But it’s kids he’s focusing on.

“A lot of them do want to move around,” said Schneider, 27. “But there are a lot of social restrictions in play that keep them from engaging in activity.”

He cites adult worries that a child will be injured on a playground – when was the last time you saw a new set of monkey bars going up in a park? – or that kids will encounter evildoers while wandering the streets with friends. For older students, cuts in physical education programs have meant overcrowded classes that make it difficult to hold students accountable for their participation in phys ed, he said.

In the end, young people have fewer ways to be fit.

Schneider is passionate about fitness, spreading the word not just through TRUE Fit but also with a Chicago-to-Boston bike trip this summer. He plans to mentor kids along the route.

He said he got the idea for TRUE (The Resourceful Use of Exercise) Fit after coming to Northwestern University for his graduate studies in 2012. He took a job with Right At School, a before- and after-school enrichment program, working with kids in grades K-8.

“One of the things that stuck out to me was the inclination for kids not to engage in physical activity,” he said. “They’re more interested in sitting in groups with friends on the phone or on their personal devices.”

His interest in fitness began when he was growing up in Rockland, Mass. “I trained from (age) 13 with my father at the gym. … I fell in love with strength and conditioning.”

Schneider earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise and health sciences from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and his master’s in sports administration from Northwestern. Over the years, he has trained and coached athletes from the youth level to professionals. He has had experience in collegiate strength and conditioning at Harvard University, the University of South Carolina and Northwestern.

Drawing on his education and experiences, he started to apply his expertise to kids.

In June, he and his father spent a day on bikes, pedaling from Rockland to a ferry that took them to Martha’s Vineyard. Over 24 hours they covered about 200 miles. The notion of a Chicago-to-Boston trek was born. “I thought it’d be great to do a bicycle tour and have TRUE Fit clinics along the way.”

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he gave the clinic idea a trial run back in Rockland, at John Rogers Middle School, which he attended. There were six gym classes, with 20 to 30 students in each.

“The classes went great,” PE instructor Steve Capone said. “The students absolutely loved the class.”

The success of the endeavor convinced Schneider to set up his bike tour, covering 10 to 12 days in August. He plans to do about 200 miles a day, stopping along the way to conduct classes. Youth organizations in Plymouth and Fort Wayne, Ind., Mentor, Ohio, and Albany, have already signed up, and there will be clinics in Chicago and Rockland. Others are in the works.

“We have such a sedentary culture. You can spend three hours on the phone, five hours watching TV, even our workforce is based on sedentary activity,” Schneider said. “We try to compensate with healthy eating, physical activity.”

His program stresses an inexpensive approach. “We need to create ways for people to access physical activity,” he said.

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