Olympian gives students the 411 on being healthy

Two-time Olympian and former USC track star Tasha Danvers teaches students about living healthy through Ready, Set, Gold! program

Two-time Olympian Tasha Danvers exercises with students at 49th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles. Danvers works with the school to help promote a healthy lifestyle for students, including teaching them about eating better and exercising through the Ready, Set, Gold! program. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

Los Angeles-Two-time Olympian Tasha Danvers believes that anything can be achieved through discipline. It is through the art of discipline that Danvers ran her way into the USC Track and Field Hall of Fame as an outstanding multi-event athlete. She would not have made the 2000 and 2008 Great Britain’s Olympic teams had she lacked self-accountability.

Without discipline, Danvers would not have been able to attain a No.4 world ranking back in 2008 in the 400-meter hurdles. Danvers was also among the world’s best in the 400-meter hurdles in 2003 (No.8), 2006 (No.9) and 2007 (No.10), according to U.S. Track & Field News world rankings.

She competed in four World Championship Games. She became a Pac-12 Conference and NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles. A studious work ethic, determination and self-regulation helped put Danvers on that pedestal.

Discipline helps everyone, Danvers said. That includes students learning how to get into habits of eating better and exercising. It’s been a while since Danvers last competed on a world-class stage. She officially retired in 2012. But every month, Danvers is front and center of Los Angeles-area schools with the boundless exuberance of someone half her age as she instructs students on the ways to practice living a healthy lifestyle.

Former USC track and field star and two-time Olympian Tasha Danvers is now leading the charge against childhood obesity by partnering with the Ready, Set, Gold! program. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

“As far as discipline, as they get older, especially as you start approaching high school age, it is important for them to understand that discipline is just a part of growing up. You need to be disciplined in order to achieve anything that you want to achieve, whether it’s your education, your work, you have to be able to self-monitor. It’s important for me as athlete, what I’ve learned now that I’m retired, is that it is very different to self-discipline and to self-motivate than it is when you have a coach and a lot of accountability like you do as an athlete. As far as discipline, I would want to instill that mentality of not always having to be us, but take the initiative to have a goal and discipline themselves to achieve that goal.”

Eating right and exercising can be contagious. Students and faculty at the 49th Street Elementary School, located in the heart of South Los Angeles, can attest to that. Danvers’ youthful appearance belies her 40 years she has been on this earth.

Danvers bounces and prances around the unforgiving cement payment at the school like someone much younger than her age as she barks out instructions to her wide-eyed and eager pupils. The fifth-grade students at 49th Street Elementary School adapt to Danvers’ high energy as she whips them into quick-pace motion of physical activity.She starts them off with two warm-up laps. Then it’s down to business of doing fluid stretching before they engage in exercise activities.

“This kind of thing I’ve done since I can remember, working with kids,” Danvers said. “I particularly have a love for this age group because they’re still so eager to learn and have fun, and I’m a big kid myself. I am originally from England, so when I was in England, I did a lot of things for academies. I was part of Jaguar [Academy of Sport] mentorship program, also the UK Athletics Academy for kids. This is just who I am, basically. ”

Tasha Danvers helps a student at 49th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles do sit-ups during her visit through the Ready, Set, Gold! program. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

That’s the nature of her appearance at the school, which she has done for the past couple of years. Push-ups, sit-ups, relay races and other activities grip the playground for 30 minutes or more as Danvers leads one group of fifth-graders after another in this near year-long preparation for the state’s mandated FitnessGram physical fitness evaluation.

Danvers’ goal, as well as other Olympians and Paralympians who are part of the Ready, Set, Gold! program, is to work with these students to help them pass their state physical fitness requirement. California students in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades are required to take the annual test. Through the Ready, Set, Gold! program, Danvers is hoping to help nip the alarming growth in childhood obesity in the bud.

“With this age group, I really just try to focus a lot on them having fun and understanding that exercise doesn’t have to be this drag,” Danvers said. “This generation has a completely different outlook on exercise. If it’s not with their thumbs or on the phone, something of that nature, some of them don’t want to participate in it. I am trying to show them that exercise doesn’t have to be this sort of drill sergeant thing where you’re bored to tears and want to scratch your eyeballs out. It’s fun, it can be fun and it can be whatever you want to make it be.”

Two-time Olympian and former USC track and field star Tasha Danvers is helping students get healthy through the Ready, Set, Gold! program. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman for News4usonline

The Ready, Set, Gold! program, which is in 55 Los Angeles Unified School District schools, was originally formed in 2006 to tackle childhood obesity and added as a bid to help the city in its quest to host the 2016 Olympics. While Los Angeles saw its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games go to Rio Je Janeiro, Brazil, the good of the Ready, Set, Gold! program has not been lost.

The idea of promoting eating healthy, getting enough exercise and promoting overall wellness to young students are getting great traction through Olympians like Danvers. Maria Rosas, principal at 49th Street Elementary School, said what Danvers and the Ready, Set, Gold! program has done for her students is wonderful.

“I think that this program…in this community, is highly, highly important,” said Rosas. “We don’t have that many community services that offer sports that a lot of other communities, that I’m familiar with, have. Having Ready, Set, Gold! here really helps to teach children that they can be active, not just through playing sports in the park, but really just at home or with their parents. This here is an excellent role model for my students. Having an Olympian is just cherry on the top. We’ve been very lucky to have Tasha. Everyone we’ve had, have been very engaging and very positive.”

Childhood obesity hit 41 million children in 2016, according to the World Health Organization. Those numbers could very well sail up to as high as 70 million by 2025. The consequences of  infants and young children becoming obese lead to other health problems. Cardiovascular disease, possible diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders are on the next step up list in the not wanted health category. Danvers said society has fallen short to help young people navigate through this landmine.

“I feel very sad that as adults we have allowed this because this happened on our watch,” Danvers said. “These kids are not going grocery shopping, they are not working and making an income that allows them to buy the things that they’re buying and eating the foods that they’re eating and creating a schedule that doesn’t include exercise and good healthy foods. This is happening because as adults we have failed them. I love to do my part in any way I can, even if it is thirty minutes with them to say something that might change their thought process.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1287 Articles
Dennis is a news and sports photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on issues such as civil rights, education, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze, Daily Press, Los Angeles Wave, Los Angeles Sentinel, and other media outlets. Dennis is currently the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. Dennis is an alum and graduate of Howard University.