A passionate plan to combat ‘growing up fat’

Benae and Alfonzo Basurto want to launch a wellness program in

Alfonzo Basurto knows firsthand just how much a few extra pounds
can weigh a child down.

It’s horrible growing up fat,

said Basurto, 34, a deputy with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s
Department and the father of five young children.
Alfonzo Basurto knows firsthand just how much a few extra pounds can weigh a child down.

“It’s horrible growing up fat,” said Basurto, 34, a deputy with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department and the father of five young children. “Parents don’t understand the negative effects of the cheap food they’re feeding their children. It’s killing them slowly.”

As a child, Basurto was obese, so combating childhood obesity is an issue “near and dear” to his heart.

A combination of unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle kept him from participating in many activities fitter children took for granted, he said.

Now that he and his wife, Benae, have children of their own, they desperately want to launch a new exercise and wellness program in district schools designed to combat the childhood obesity epidemic that has hit Gilroy particularly hard. But they’re getting frustrated.

For the past 16 years, Basurto and his wife have been running a year-round swim school. Four years ago, they launched a summer sports camp and have partnered with the City of Gilroy to offer hundreds of children the opportunity to stay active once school lets out. Fueled by almost two decades of experience coaching children and a desire to whip them into shape before it’s too late, Basurto never thought the biggest stumbling block would be all the red tape.

Since August, Basurto has been trying to hammer out a plan to bring an after-school physical education and wellness class, organized recess and intramural sports to Gilroy schools. Though many schools do have after-school programs in place, Basurto’s would focus primarily on physical fitness and wellness, he said.

Basurto considered requesting voluntary donations from parents to help fund the program and his staff’s time but, after meeting some resistance from the school district, decided to offer the program for free.

He plans to volunteer his time for now with the hope he would be able to secure grant funding to expand the program in the future.

Though Marilyn Ayala, assistant superintendent of Educational Services, has been exchanging e-mails with Basurto for more than a month, she said she has not received his formal program proposal and request to use school facilities.

“We need to know exactly what he will be offering so that we can be sure that the requested site can accommodate his programs as well as the existing programs for the time and space requested,” Ayala wrote in an e-mail.

Further, the district won’t allow Basurto to distribute fliers about his free program, even though Basurto said his children bring home fliers for other leagues, programs and clubs on a regular basis.

“It’s been very frustrating,” he said.

Without Basurto’s application and formal approval by the school board, sending out fliers would be premature, Ayala said.

As soon as he gets the green light from district administrators, Basurto said he’s poised to start the program “the next day.”

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is more important than our health?'” Basurto said. “The answer should be ‘Nothing.’ Let’s move.”

According to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, 37 percent of Gilroy’s children are overweight, a statistic that far outweighs the percent of overweight children in Morgan Hill and the county – 28 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

And the numbers only get worse with age. In Gilroy, two out of three adults are overweight or obese, a statistic that is higher than the county, state and national averages.

“We are the worst of the worst in Gilroy,” Basurto said.

Obese is a classification given to those who score 30 or higher on the body mass index, a measurement that takes into account a person’s weight and height. An 11-year-old standing 4 feet 6 inches and weighing about 90 pounds falls into the mid-range of the “normal” band on the body mass index. A child of that same stature would be considered overweight at 104 pounds and obese at 125 pounds.

Though they weren’t familiar with the specifics of Basurto’s proposal, trustees said they welcomed any ideas from the community that would help combat the expanding waistlines of Gilroy’s children.

“You need a healthy body to have a healthy mind,” said trustee Francisco Dominguez, saying the rising number of unhealthy students in the district is “alarming.”

But with more academic requirements than ever, the window of time devoted to challenging children physically during the school day is shrinking, trustee Denise Apuzzo pointed out. Although the school district sponsors programs throughout the year, such as April’s Run for Fitness, “it’s not enough,” Apuzzo said.

“It’s not about a run, it’s about a lifestyle. It’s about changing eating habits,” she said. “A one-day program is not going to change that.”

Teaching a full curriculum on health and wellness may be too much to squeeze into the school day, but it’s something Basurto aims to tackle once he launches his program.

A few years ago, Basurto was 60 pounds heavier than he is today. For him and his wife, exercise has become an essential ingredient to a fulfilling day.

“It’s like brushing our teeth,” he said. “We’re not complete unless we’ve had our run. We want to be examples to our kids.”

In September, Basurto participated in a “Men’s Fitness” challenge in Las Vegas and is waiting for the scores to be released.

“I’m in the best shape of my entire life,” he said “That shows it’s never too late to start.”

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