By Jill Nagy
Taylor’s Heroes, a fitness and nutrition program for young people ages 8 to 18, has openings for new members when its next session begins Jan. 11. The program, which includes exercise classes, sports participation, and nutrition advice over 14 weeks, is free.
The current group will have a graduate celebration—a healthy dinner at the Hampton Inn in Saratoga—on Dec. 14.
The program is named in honor of David Taylor Miller, a U.S. Army Pfc. and Saratoga Hills High School graduate who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, at the age of 19. Miller, formerly an obese child, whipped himself into shape with a program of diet and exercise before joining the Army.
The organization was founded by his mother and aunt and is run entirely by volunteers.
The two main aspects of the program are group exercise and instruction on nutrition, including tips on shopping for and preparing healthy foods. A nutrition expert is available to work with individual parents, helping them plan menus and prepare alternative snacks. The children also do some cooking.
“We are trying to work more with parents,” said organization president Leslie Miller. “It is hard for kids to choose healthy snacks when they don’t find them in the refrigerator.”
Meeting with family members, Miller finds, is “hit or miss. Life is busy and change is hard for everybody.” Still, the program asks for a commitment from both children and parents. That is the only entrance requirement.
The children are encouraged to get involved in sports. Organized team sports are difficult because these are kids who were always chosen last and never really had a chance to develop the necessary skills, Miller said. However, Taylor’s Heroes can provide a coach for a child who wants to play basketball. Others may chose to join a karate school.
Miller encourages them to try tennis, a gateway to lifetime exercise. Generally, she finds, individual sports work better than team sports.
The participants “all start with the same look—looking at their shoes,” Miller said. But, over the course of the program, they overcome their shyness, make friends and encourage one another. One year, a group of high school juniors in the program went to the prom together.
Children can go through the program twice, and many of them do repeat.
The program aims to help participants develop lifelong skills, not just lose weight. Miller said there is some thinking that if obese children merely maintain their weight, they will grow into it as they get taller and build muscle.
For weight loss, emphasis is placed on portion control (“It’s okay to have a piece of pie but don’t go back for seconds”) as well as substituting chips and soda with more nutritious, low-calorie foods.
There is not a lot of follow-up.
“That is one of the ways we could be more effective,” Miller said. “We could work on that.”
Taylor’s Heroes is a very small organization and everyone is a volunteer, including the fitness and nutrition coaches and the executive director, Susanne D’ilorio, Taylor’s mother. Many of the activities take place at the Saratoga Springs YMCA.
Taylor’s Heroes’ website is www.taylorsheroes.org. Its telephone number is 518-894-1658.