DALLAS — Michelle Obama remembers sitting in front of her television many years ago and watching Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci and Carl Lewis as they competed in the Summer Olympics.
“Like so many others,” she said, “I was awed and inspired by those athletes.”
Obama admitted that she was still in awe Monday, when she took the stage with about two dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes to announce a plan to get more than 1.7 million children involved in sports through her “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.
The first lady is in partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Partnership for a Healthier America, U.S. Paralympics and numerous national governing bodies that have pledged their time and resources toward introducing young people to their sports over the course of the summer.
“When we first met with these organizations, we challenged them to commit to helping 1 million kids get active in their communities. That was our first target, and we thought that was ambitious,” said Obama, who will also be leading the U.S. delegation to the London Games.
“They not only met that goal,” she said, “they added another 700,000 to that commitment.”
USA Cycling is offering free memberships and clinics nationwide, while USA Field Hockey is launching a clinic at 250 locations reaching 15,000 kids.
USA Gymnastics plans to reach 40,000 additional children, the U.S. Soccer Federation will engage 12,000 youth in after-school programs, USA Track & Field is expanding its youth program by 35 percent and the U.S. Tennis Association plans to reach 750,000 new kids this year. USA Swimming hopes to enroll 530,000 new learn-to-swim participants in its “Make a Splash” program and engage 70,000 new youth members through local chapters.
“The ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign is amazing, and it’s something I believe in,” said three-time Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin, who introduced the first lady Monday. “It’s about getting out there and being active and not being sedentary.”
The U.S. Olympians Association recently began a “Walk to London” program during which 5,456 children will walk a total of 5,456 miles– the distance from Los Angeles to London.
USA Volleyball and USA Basketball are also involved in the initiative.
“Many of these kids will be playing sports for the very first time, and that is so important, because sometimes – as all of you know – all it takes is that first lesson, or that first class, to get a child interested in a new sport,” Obama said.