Little Candace scored six three-pointers in her basketball game this weekend. Too bad it was on her iPad and not on the court.
Sound familiar to any parents out there? Kids spending an inordinate amount of time in front of electronics instead of getting up and running around on their own two feet?
Well, mom Kathleen Tullie was not a fan of this scenario, so she decided to create a morning fitness program to get kids going before school.
But she had to fight for it, even with a community of parents behind her.
Kathleen Tullie, founder of BOKS. Photo via BOKS.
Tullie was a seasoned businesswoman when a downturn in the market and her cancer diagnosis convinced her to give up her career and become a stay-at-home mom. While reading a book called "Spark" by John Ratey about how regular exercise has the power to improve brain functionality, she was inspired to take a hard look at her kids' school's physical fitness program.
"We have an obesity and mental health crisis — why are we not letting our kids run around before school? I had elementary school kids, and they were only getting PE at school once a week," says Tullie.
She brought the idea of a before-school fitness program run by parents to her kids' school principal.
Kids in BOKS program doing jumping jacks. Photo via Kathleen Tullie.
It seemed like a no-brainer, but even armed with a group of parents committed to hosting the program, the principal gave a resounding "no."
He thought it would be too much trouble.
Naturally, that didn't stop Tullie. She kicked the idea over to the superintendent, who loved it and told her to run with it (pun intended).
She then sent out an email announcing the program to all the parents, and within a week, nearly 100 kids were geared up to go.
Once it was in full swing, she started receiving tons of emails from parents and teachers saying what a profound impact the workout was having on their kids.
They were sleeping better, had better attitudes, and were performing better academically.
Kid running in BOKS program. Photo via BOKS.
Tullie never imagined the interest it would get and decided to form a nonprofit to elevate her mission.
First, she wrote to that author, John Ratey, to tell him of her plans for the nonprofit. He immediately wrote back saying, “I’ll be a director. Let’s start something.”
Then Tullie went to Reebok to see if they'd be willing to do a T-shirt sponsorship. She ended up speaking to Matt O'Toole, Reebok's CEO, about the program for two hours.
He told her he loved what she was doing and wanted to back them to "help reinvigorate a culture of participants."
Just like that, they were taken under the umbrella of the Reebok Foundation, and the program became known as BOKS.
From there, BOKS spread like wildfire. Seven years later, it's now in 2,500 schools and four different countries.
BOKS kids running a relay race. Photo via Kathleen Tullie.
Tullie, along with her original "Mom Team" Cheri Levitz and Jen Lawrence, could not be more thrilled that BOKS took off. Sure, there were hard times, like the first year and a half when none of them took home a paycheck, but their dedication paid off in a big way.
"I feel like I’ve been given this opportunity where I have to make a difference," says Tullie. "I want to get to the point where every school is active."
Her son and daughter are now 13 and 16, love fitness and play all sorts of sports. She hopes her endeavor has inspired them to go after their dreams with everything they've got.
What fuels Tullie most are the incredible success stories she hears from parents, teachers, and trainers all the time.
A trainer with kids playing BOKS games. Photo via Kathleen Tullie.
One woman in particular who always stands out as truly inspiring to her is Jesse Farren James, a mom from Boston who's been a lead trainer at an inner-city school for three and a half years and has always struggled with her weight.
When it was first suggested she become lead trainer, she wasn't sure she'd be an appropriate role model, but that quickly changed.
"BOKS gave me a chance to show kids that no matter what size and shape you are, if you are a natural born athlete or have a lot to work on, BOKS is fun," writes James in an email. "BOKS reminded me that fat or thin, I am of use. I can make a difference, a big one."
That's why Tullie's goal is for there to be a program like BOKS in every school. If kids see fitness as fun, accessible, and totally inclusive, they might make it part of their routine for the rest of their lives.
Interested in bringing BOKS to your community? Sign up for their training program here.
Find out more about what BOKS is all about here:
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