New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said he usually spends Tuesdays, his day off, getting some rest and relaxation. But he canceled his massage appointment Tuesday and instead was cranking out push-ups in the gym of Sequoya Middle School in Holtsville with a group of seventh-graders.
As the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wilkerson lowered himself to the floor and back up, he encouraged the children to also eek out a few more reps.
“It was really cool knowing that the person I usually watch on TV is right there in front of me,” said Qwen Loubier, 12, a self-proclaimed “football fanatic” and one of nearly 100 Sequoya students who worked out with Wilkerson.
The children participated in various drills and calisthenics, received a nutrition lesson from a registered dietitian and learned about “Fuel Up to Play 60.” The program, launched by the NFL and the National Dairy Council, encourages more physical activity and better nutrition in schools.
“The kids are smiling and we’re all having a good time,” Wilkerson said. “I’m glad the kids are taking the time out throughout their day to do these different activities to help out their bodies.”
During his visit, Wilkerson also autographed a Jets football for student Nick Becher, the son of Richard Becher, 50, of Holtsville, who died Sept. 20 after he was hit in the head by a baseball while pitching batting practice to his son's team.
And he announced that the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, in partnership with the American Dairy Association, will be awarding two $5,000 grants to Long Island schools -- one in Nassau County and one in Suffolk.
From now until Nov. 3, local elementary and intermediate schools can submit an application at ADADC.com. The grants will be awarded to the schools that best showcase how their students stay active for 60 minutes per day, and have increased access to good nutrition, including breakfast.
Lori Hewlett, chairwoman of the Sachem school district’s health education department, said that the district started implementing the Play 60 program into its schools, starting with Sequoya, five years ago. She likes its simplicity and how it uses computer games to engage students to be more physically active.
Schools can sign up at fueluptoplay60.com. Students earn points and can even win prizes for logging workouts, tracking their eating habits and participating in campaigns.
Hewlett said the program has contributed to noticeable improvements in the health of the student population, including lower body mass indexes.
“Research shows us that healthy kids learn better,” she added. “If we invest in the health of our kids, then you’re investing in their academics and their future success as people.”
Wilkerson said that just like professional athletes need good nutrition and exercise to excel, so do students. he added that he started his day with egg whites and turkey bacon.
Qwen, of Holtsville, said she had an Eggo waffle, but added, “I would use what I learned today to be healthier in the food choices that I make.”