As East Olympia Elementary School sixth-grader Abbey Bergquist ran toward the finish line, several Fort Lewis soldiers started cheering.
“Faster! Faster! Push it! ... Good job! Good job! Keep it up!”
The 11-year-old needed to run 1 mile in nine minutes and two seconds to earn the Presidential Physical Fitness Award for which Fort Lewis soldiers tested East Olympia students Tuesday. She crossed the finish line in five minutes and 12 seconds — one of the fastest times at the school this year.
“They push you a lot harder,” Abbey said of the soldiers. “It really motivates you.”
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Twenty Fort Lewis soldiers volunteered Tuesday at East Olympia Elementary School, helping physical education specialist Susan Krasnican oversee the fitness challenge she gives every year.
The President’s Fitness Challenge is a national program that requires participants to meet standards on a variety of physical exercises, including curl-ups, pull-ups and stretches. Typically, about half of the school’s students earn an award, Krasnican said.
“It pushes them a little harder physically,” she said of the challenge. “I think it’s all about self-esteem.”
On her own, it takes Krasnican more than a week to complete the challenge with one class. The Fort Lewis soldiers made it possible to finish the test in one day.
The soldiers participated as part of Fort Lewis’ Community Connection Program. It calls on soldiers to volunteer in communities, giving residents a chance to interact with the military.
The fitness challenge exercises are familiar for the Fort Lewis soldiers who undergo regular workouts together, Sgt. Major Jose Santiago said.
“It’s beneficial because a lot of children today are not that physically fit because they spend more time inside than outside,” he said.
Sixth-grader Darique Archambeault, 12, said it was exciting to have the soldiers help out.
“I want to be like one of them when I grow up,” he said.
Sixth-grader Katelyn Kohler, 12, ran 1 mile in six minutes and four seconds — two minutes faster than her time last year.
“It felt really good because now I can say I beat my older brother when he was in sixth grade,” she said.
Heather Woodward covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.