Olympic perspective: Shannon Miller visit hit with teachers, students

The hundreds of physical education, health and driver’s education teachers who spent Friday at the annual Phil Lawler Physical Education, Health and Driver Education Conference at Naperville North High School earned a special treat.

The all-day event included more than 70 presentations, but none more high profile than the opening presentation made by Shannon Miller, America’s most decorated gymnast. Neil Duncan, instructional coordinator for PE, health, and driver’s education at Naperville North, said Friday’s event would provide “a great opportunity for staff development and learning.”

“We have over 1,200 people registered for this event, and we usually get another 100 or 200 people in walk ups,” Duncan said. “Having someone like Shannon give her time to support this with so many other things going on in her life is wonderful, and will help us make great strides with students.”

Pat Adamatis, an adaptive PE teacher at Naperville Central High School, said that for her the conference “was a great way to listen to various ideas and opinion and get re-energized.”

“There is a lot of networking that goes on as well as new equipment to see from the vendors, and it’s good to be with people in the field,” she said.

Miller spoke for 45 minutes about the fitness crisis in the United States, along with her own battles with maintaining a healthy weight and fitness once her Olympic days were over.

“After I retired from competing, I went back to school to finish my degree, and all I did was sit around and eat and eat and eat some more,” Miller said. “I went from exercising over 40 hours a week to zero and went up four dress sizes, which — if you’re a woman — you know that’s pretty tough. One day, I went to put a pair of my jeans on and realized, if I didn’t have some Crisco, those pants weren’t going to go on.”

Miller said she tried fad diets to no avail, and then tried to cut out certain foods like chocolate but found it was a battle she couldn’t live with. She then started a food and exercise diary and realized she was consuming very little protein or vegetables. And then she began to make small changes, which eventually led to making strides and reclaiming her wellness thanks to a better lifestyle.

“This is how we can make a difference in our lives and those of children,” she said. “You have to make fitness a part of your day like brushing your teeth. You don’t get up in the morning and wonder if you’re going to eat today. Regardless of what your schedule is — you have to look at being active and doing something each day as part of taking care of and nurturing yourself.”

Miller also talked about how heart monitors and various fitness devices can make exercise fun for kids and adults alike. Tracking heart rate and performance helps establish goals that then can be monitored.

“Fitness technology gives you guidance and accountability, and allows you to reach targets,” she said. “I’ve seen what it can do in PE classes with kids, and it’s incredible.”

Students as well as adults spoke about the “star-quality” factor of having an Olympian speak.

“People will listen to Miller because of who she is,” said Emily Kraft, a junior at Naperville Central.

Kraft said kids need more healthy options because fast food is one of the culprits of obesity.

“To hear a message from an Olympian, people look up to her and will listen, and some may even say they want to be like her,” Kraft said.

David Wesolowski, a junior at Naperville Central, said he believes technology like tablets and phones is enabling kids when it comes to obesity.

“I think for a lot of kids there is a lack of motivation for kids to be active,” he said. “Too many students look at PE as a ‘blow off’ class, and it should be something kids are engaged in. We need to make it fun to exercise and emphasize PE more.”