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July 25, 2014

Riding a bike, changed the life of a high school freshman

Upon seeing Justin Schwaitzberg, you would never guess that just a year ago he was entering his freshman year at Milton Academy overweight.  When you look at him now, you see a fit, healthy, and very confident high school student.  Justin was kind enough to sit down with CYCLE Kids Founder & Executive Director, Julianne Idlet and share how riding his bike and changing his eating habits transformed his life not only physically, but also socially, and emotionally as well.

When Justin began his freshman year, he was fairly introverted. Most days afterschool he was indoors on his computer. He wasn’t eating healthy and he couldn’t find an exercise regimen that didn’t feel like a chore. At this time, Justin’s self confidence was low and he didn’t like who he was.  Who he aspired to be, wasn’t who he was and he hadn’t been this person for a few years now.  From that point on, Justin decided to make a change.

Justin’s first step towards a healthy lifestyle was to change his eating habits. Although at home and in school there were many healthy options, he had never chosen them before.  So, he started balancing his plate and replacing sides with salads or other healthier options. By the end of the school year, Justin felt better and he started to see a change in his appearance. Seeing how successful this simple change was motivated Justin to do more. Experience showed him that running was not fun for him; and if he didn’t find an enjoyable way to exercise he knew he wouldn’t stick to it. That is when he decided to pick up his bike. Although he had access to a bicycle all his life, Justin explained at the time he only rode once or twice a year.  However, this time when he rode, things were different.

Starting small, Justin began riding daily from his home to a local shopping center and back. Each day he rode he felt stronger and slowly he started adding more miles to his rides. Soon enough, Justin was riding 10-15 miles daily and loving it!  When Julianne asked what made him chose the bike and why he enjoyed it he said, “It was very different from running; I could go much farther, faster. I like watching the sites as I ride by. Riding also allows me to relax, have time to myself, to think and reflect.”

Riding a bike also changed Justin emotionally and socially. Riding far distances gave him a strong sense of self-reliance. His bike allowed him to meet up with his friends easier and he spent less time at the computer. He also gained self-confidence, which gave him the courage to try new things.  With new self-assurance, Justin began participating in plays at school. He felt he could really put himself out there and excel, where previously he had been hiding in the background. He also explored other school activities such as the ski club and a spring dance program where he made many new friends. The once shy, introvert, with a small group of friends, now had a new lease on life with self-certainty and a community of friends.

Julianne talked to Justin about how he felt about the CYCLE Kids program and that if he had been involved when he was in 4th and 5th grade, would it have made a difference in his health and wellness. He said, “Definitely! When I finally decided to make the change to be healthier, I had been feeling like I had wanted to do something about it for 4 or 5 years.”  Julianne responded, “That’s interesting, so you were actually in 4th or 5th grade when you had that desire to be more active, but you just didn’t have the opportunity.” “Yeah, I had the image of who I wanted to be, but I just wasn’t there yet and didn’t know how to get there.” Justin said.

Justin is an amazing young man. When you hear him tell his story, you can tell how happy and proud he is. He is a terrific role model for both children and adults alike. During the conversation, he even said, “People don’t realize that if you are dedicated and motivated, losing weight and getting healthy isn’t hard.”  When Julie asked him about how he planned to sustain his weight loss he responded, “I didn’t go on a diet. I changed my whole lifestyle. I don’t have to maintain anything because this is how I live now.” 

Justin lends some of his success to his very supportive family. They all strive to eat well and use the PeaPod grocery service from Stop and Shop to collaboratively build a healthy grocery list.  Justin says he makes his own healthy choices and adds them to the list.  He also hopes to get out and ride more with his family. It really shows how important it is for families to work together to build a healthy lifestyle.

America’s youth, as a group, are becoming more out of shape with every passing year.  Approximately 25 million children and adolescents, more than 33%, are now overweight or obese. However, there is time for change and Justin is a prime example of that. His story is a perfect representation of the CYCLE Kids mission, that the “vital, simple, and captivating skill of riding a bike changes lives”. It transformed his life physically, emotionally, and socially. Adapting a healthier lifestyle gave him more confidence, which allowed him to try new things and make many more friends.  He is a wonderful role model for future ‘CYCLE Kids’ and their families alike.  

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