Retired skier Jennifer Heil helping kids get active
Canadian two-time Olympic medallist supporting national initiative to promote kids physical activity
Olympic mogul gold medallist Jennifer Heil has hardly been sitting around since her retirement at the end of the 2011 season — she's been helping Canadian children to get moving.
As ambassador to the Canada Games activity challenge that is providing schools with resources to help students build foundational physical skills early on, Heil hopes to combat the nation's "physical activity crisis" by fostering a life-long love for sport in the next generation.
"We have children getting adult diseases now at really high rates," Heil said. "For the first-time ever, today's younger generation is expected to have a shorter life span so for me this issue isn't about sport, it's about health. I've received so much from sport at an individual level which has strengthened me in what I can do and my connection to the community."
Coinciding with Canada's 150th anniversary celebration next year, this signature project has the backing of the Canadian Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough, and has been selected as a national priority with the delivery happening through the Canada Games that runs from July 28 to August 13, 2017.
As an active contributor to charitable initiatives through her B2ten foundation and other programs, the four-time word ski championship gold medallist, and mother of two young boys says she can relate to the challenges parents face in pulling their kids away from iPad's and other technologies.
Heil says the Activity Challenge incorporates popular gadgets by giving teachers access to an app which provides them with 20 daily constructive modules for three consecutive months that can be adapted to how much or little access to equipment a school may have.
With wheelchair basketball Paralympian Bo Hedges also on board as an ambassador, Heil believes the nationwide initiative will make practical resources more accessible to students and their families.
"There has been a lot of provinces that have mandated daily physical activity with no support for the teachers," Heil said. "This initiative is one of the first to come in and actually deliver the resources to teachers and kids who can take the app home and introduce it to their parents as well.
"We've already exceeded expectations in term of the number of schools that have registered, so we know the value is there. It is a one-year project that hopefully shows proof of concept so it will be able to be scaled and expanded in the future."
Heil was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame last year and continues to stay active through various new activities, including her newest past time, surfing, which she jokingly admits she is not very good at yet.
Having recently moved to Montreal from North Vancouver "to be closer to the mountains," the self-proclaimed "adrenaline junkie" says being outdoors on a consistent basis, challenging herself, and introducing her young family and other children to sport is one of her top priorities.
"Obviously I love competition and the elite side of it but my passion is spreading the joy of participation and the freedom that comes with the sense of movement." the 33-year-old said.
"I only realized how important sport was to me when I retired. I started to feel awful, my mental health my clarity of thinking, the way I felt in my body, which kind of reaffirmed how important it is to me. The benefits of sport go far beyond the playing field."
Schools can register their classrooms to participate from now until Jan., 27, 2017 through the Canada Games website.