By Nathaniel Axtell
Times-News Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, September 14, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.
MILLS RIVER - Brayden Sparks hiked the football to his friend, Madeline Hover, and sprinted up the field at Mills River Park, then backpedaled as he awaited the pass.
Dropping back, Hover threw a line drive that drilled Sparks in the nose and bounced into the grass. The impact of the soft foam ball didn't leave a mark, but the exercise sure did. Both kids zipped back to position, gulping breaths of cool, fresh air.
The schoolmates were two of roughly 40 kids who showed up at the park Sunday for “Let's Move Day,” an exercise and healthy-eating event sponsored by the Hendersonville Seventh-Day Adventist Church with help from Henderson County Parks and Recreation.
Taking a cue from First Lady Michelle Obama's “Let's Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity, organizers Denise and Gary Phillips designed the event to encourage participants young and old to get active and eat wholesome foods.
“Her program is about moving and eating well, and ours, we go a little beyond that,” said Denise Phillips. “We do not do dairy or meat at all. Everything here is totally vegan and organic.”
Kids could win prizes by working their way through a series of fun activities, from football, soccer and tennis to bike riding, tumbling, jump roping and bubble chasing. Under a nearby covered pavilion, church members served vegan muffins, corn salad and smoothies mixed with kale, celery and fruit.
With both their parents working, the Phillipses said, kids today tend to eat more fast food and sit in front of video screens for hours instead of going out to play.
“It used to be the TV generation, and now it's the computer generation,” said Gary Phillips. “With two working parents, the easiest thing to do is to let them do their own thing. And now you've got young adults and kids with onset diabetes and other diseases normally seen only in adults.”
That sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, largely because of inactivity and poor eating habits.
“All of these parents are working, and they're doing fast food,” said Denise Phillips. “The kids are eating chicken nuggets and macaroni-and-cheese. But fruit is fast food. All you've got to do is pick up an apple. Hopefully, we're opening peoples' eyes a little to healthy nutrition and the benefits of exercise.”
Conner West, 6, and his 3-year-old brother, Ethan, are living proof that combination can work. Their doctor says both siblings are slightly underweight for their ages, their mom, Brooke, said.
“(Conner) is my vegetable eater, and this one's my fruit eater,” Brooke West said, pointing to Ethan. “They're just active. They love being outside, and we don't play very much on (video) games.”
With help from instructor Michele Simpson, the siblings twirled hula-hoops at her fitness station. After completing the activity, the boys got a colored check that could pay off in prizes such as a soccer ball, Frisbee or football.
In the park's pavilion, Sandra Howard of Tuxedo sampled Sharon Day Ferguson's green smoothies with three friends. Howard said her husband's diabetes prompted the couple to make some dietary changes that have yielded dividends for her, as well.
“I used to drink (cow's) milk before I went to bed, and I was getting up in the morning with acid reflux,” Howard said. “So I said, 'I'm going to try soy milk.' I did it for a week, and the acid reflux went away. I've been drinking it for over two years, and it's great. I cook and bake with it, too.”
Reach Axtell at email@example.com or 828-507-3920.