Sam Houston Elementary School parent volunteer Rachel Hughes couldn’t walk half a lap around the school parking lot with her daughter during the 2009 Smokie Strut fundraiser.
What a difference a year makes.
Thanks to bariatric surgery and a regular workout regiment at Blount Memorial Wellness Center, the 37-year-old mom, now 160 pounds lighter, walked 26 laps with second and third graders during the Smokie Strut.
Principal Scott Blevins said more than 540 students from Pre-K through fourth grade participated in the annual fundraiser held on April 23. Final totals were not available because money is still being collected. “Traditionally we raise anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000. It is a great fundraiser,” Blevins said. “We try to keep fundraisers to a minimum so we don’t have parents helping with four or five a year. We try to do one, and let that be it.”
Hughes said she promised her daughter Becca she was going to participate with her in this year’s event. “Last year, physically, I was unable. I weighed 386 pounds so I couldn’t even if I had wanted,” Hughes said. “I had bariatric surgery in August of 2009 and this year I made a lot of healthy choices.”
Adding a walk with the third grade class came when a third grade teacher invited her to speak to his class about making healthy choices, Hughes said she befriended some of the students and chose to walk with them in this year’s Smokie Strut. “I bonded with some of the children and felt compelled to walk with them and cheer them on,” she said. “Several didn’t feel comfortable enough to run it, so I walked with them the whole time. Then I also walked with my daughter’s second grade class.”
Hughes said each student participating in the Strut had a tally sheet on their backs and teachers made a mark each time they completed a lap. “I had them mark my hand instead. Last year, I didn’t get all the way around even one time,” she said. “This year, I got around 13 times with the second graders and 13 times with the third graders. It was fun. It is such a great experience.”
Hughes said principal Scott Blevins and assistant principal Glenn Doig were DJs and kept the participants entertained. Several area businesses supported the event. Sparky the Maryville Fire Department mascot, the Chick-fil-A cow and the mascot from Thunderworld were on hand, she said.
Each grade gets 30 minutes of time around the parking lot. Maryville Police Department blocks off road to keep everyone safe. “The community gets so involved. All the parents are on the sidelines cheering them on, and students from other grades have their hands out to High-5 the students as they walk,” she said.
Hughes hoped she helped the youngsters have confidence. “I think it encourages them to know anybody can do it. You don’t have to be the fastest, you just have to get out there and get your body in motion,” she said. “It is OK not to be the fastest, set your own personal best goal and achieve it.”
Blevins said the way the fundraiser works is that about a month before the Strut, students begin collecting per-lap pledges or getting one-time donations. After the Strut is over, the prizes are awarded based on the amount of money brought in, he said.
“We have numerous prizes - from bicycles to video game systems to iPods - all kinds of different prizes,” he said. “Everyone gets a T-shirt from our adopt-a-school sponsors Ingram, Overholt and Bean and Mary Beth West Consulting. We did some really cool tie-dye T-shirts.”
Blevins said more than 150 parents volunteers are on site the day of the event and between 30 or 40 participate in the Strut. “It is a great time for everyone to relax and unwind late in the school year, and it ties in with our wellness incentives throughout the year,” he said. “It’s just a fun day. We try to make it fun for the parents, kids and teachers as well.”