When Alfonso Basurto was in the fifth grade, he stole a package of weight loss supplements from the grocery store.
Basurto wasn’t a born criminal — quite the opposite, considering he would eventually grow up and join the Sheriff’s Department. Rather, the Gilroy, Calif., native was an obese child, one who was desperate to be thin but didn’t know how to do it.
"I can recall all the crying and prayers I said to help me become skinny." Basurto recalls. "Crying and saying prayers is all I knew to do because there was no one to tell me how to become healthier."
Basurto is now all grown-up and in tip-top shape, using proper diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. But motivated by his own childhood experiences, the father of five now runs "Kids P.E. & Wellness," a nonprofit that works with Gilroy schools to host after-school sports and wellness programs.
It’s an especially important project, considering Gilroy has among the highest rates of childhood obesity in Santa Clara County, Basurto says. On May 21, the nonprofit will host its first-ever 5K race, designed to get kids even more active outside the classroom.
Although it’s his first time hosting a 5K, Basurto can look to fellow PreventObesity.net leader Robin Lindsay for advice. The physician’s assistant is the founder of "Go FAR," a North Carolina-based nonprofit that provides local schools with a 10-week curriculum that teaches children about physical activity and good nutrition. It ends with a 5K run-walk event for kids, who often run alongside their teachers, principals or other leading community members.
In 2003, after seeing a rise in the number of her young patients showing signs of adult diseases like high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, Lindsay started GO FAR, which stands for "Go Out For a Run." At the time she was training for a marathon, so it began as a running club to help others train for road races, eventually becoming the nonprofit it is today.
The kids have really taken to the races, Lindsay says, especially since they’ve become such a community event, with schools and local leaders getting involved.
"At these kids’ races, all the parents show up, and their grandparents, and they’re at the finish line cheering for them, clapping for them," Lindsay says. "It’s kind of neat they feel like they’ve just run in the Olympics or something. It’s their own goal they’ve completed."
Occasionally, the parents even get into the races themselves.
"A lot of times, the parent will train and run with their kids, so it gets the family involved," Lindsay says. "They’re not just sitting on the sideline for soccer on Saturday, watching their kids play."
Go FAR’s next race is scheduled for April 30, in High Point, N.C., Lindsay says. She’s expecting more than 1,800 runners to take part from various schools throughout the region, and the big event also will mark the 100th birthday of the Guilford County Public Health Department.
Meanwhile, out in California, Basurto is hoping his group’s 5K race will launch a series of other wellness programs for local schools. He hopes to eventually bring after-school physical activities to every elementary school in the county.
"You need a society change, you need a paradigm shift, otherwise we’re not going to really make any progress," he says.