One of the biggest complaints about young people today is that they spend more time online, playing video games, or perfecting their texting skills than actually getting out and exercising. There are the exceptions, of course, like 16-year-old George Atkinson, a U.K. mountain climber who just became the youngest climber to complete the Seven Summits Challenge – climbing the seven highest mountains in the world (he began with Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 11). But his type is a rare breed.
According to one statistic, 88% of Canadian youth do not get enough exercise. Lively Media aims to change that with Run Run Revolution, a new two-part CBC series aimed at turning children from sedentary sloths into marathon miracles. Airing June 12 at 8 p.m., the show looks to reverse the trend that has experts predicting that this will be the first generation with a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Personal trainer Daryl Devonish and nutritionist Jennifer Sygo have teamed up with middle school principal Bruce Hubbard to work on getting a group of out-of-shape students at Ottawa’s Pinecrest Public School ready for the youth section of the Boston Marathon, running a 5k race and a sprint relay.
“Run Run Revolution is a movement to get kids more active across Canada,” Devonish states during the first part of the series. “The end goal is to get kids more active on a day to day basis. I want to take ten ordinary kids and make them extraordinary.”
To that end, the ten kids chosen to participate in the challenge are a reflection of your average 12- or 13-year old today.
“These ten children are children that are a cross-section of our school community,” says Principal Hubbard. “They come from all kinds of places in the world. They come from all kinds of fitness levels. That’s what we wanted; we wanted a variety of students, a variety of stories.”
But these kids also deal with more issues than ever faced by previous generations – such as health problems arising from watching TV or computer screens for over 40 hours a week and dealing with childhood obesity which has tripled in the past three decades – and they do so with a certain maturity that’s remarkable, given the popular view of kids and preteens being out of touch with reality due to their media-saturated environments.
Thirteen-year-old Siraad, whose family moved to Canada from Somalia three years ago, wants to help abused women when she gets older. Thirteen-year-old Adib wants to be a kidney specialist, but the guitar aficionado notes that being a rock star might be a good backup plan. Thirteen-year-old Omar, dealing with epilepsy brought on by the videogames he is now only allowed to play for 30 minutes at a time, is also a devoted big brother to his baby sister. And twelve-year-old Courtney has five younger siblings to take care of, a situation belied by her soft-spoken words and perpetual good nature.
With Run Run Revolution, the producers aim to show what happens when what is done in one community with the right motivation – like with the school community of Pinecrest Public School – is allowed to spread all across the country.
“Anyone who is pessimistic about the next generation won’t be after they see this show,” says Leanna Crouch, executive producer of the show. “These kids – 12- and 13-year olds – grab a hold of your heart in unexpected ways; they are feisty, funny and optimistic, despite some formidable obstacles they face in their everyday lives. Run Run Revolution underscores the inactivity crisis in this country, but the heart of this narrative is how these idiosyncratic bunch of kids eventually band together to accomplish a goal.”
For each of them, being a part of Run Run Revolution means a chance to take part in something bigger than their lives. The three-month training regimen led by Devonish – “Coach D”, as the kids call him – is not just physical training, but a psychological, character-building exercise. As each of the ten face harder and harder physical obstacles, it becomes a question of finding out who has the will to make it past the statistics and prove the experts wrong.
With a show soundtrack featuring a slew of Canadian artists including K’naan, Zeus, Hey Rosetta, Sam Roberts, and Ash Koley, as well as flashy graphics depicting the sober statistics, Run Run Revolution is an exuberant take on a serious problem. But it bursts with the optimism that says a solution is possible and within reach, and it is in the hands – and feet – of the children themselves.
Tune in to CBC on June 12 at 8 p.m./8.30 NT to catch Parts 1 and 2 of Run Run Revolution.