Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
This year, Jennifer Shimea of Baytown spent her spring break vacation doing something different.
Instead of plopping down in front of the television while visiting her Paw Paw, Gene Parchman of Rusk, the 13-year-old worked up a sweat at a youth workout camp offered by Beyond Fitness Gym.
And had a blast doing so.
“When we came to visit last summer, we were sitting around watching TV and my Paw Paw took us to the gym and signed us up” for a summer youth program offered by owners Sterling and Jenny Pratz.
“When we went there, we didn't know what was going on (and) I thought I was going to do bad, but I started to like it,” she said, admitting, “I love it now.”
The teen is one of the Pratzes' success stories: Inspired by her summer workouts, Jennifer began working out at a gym back home thanks to a membership sponsored by Parchman and began getting involved in school sports.
As a result, the teen has lost approximately 35 pounds since last summer, Jenny said.
“We're very proud of her,” she said.
She and her husband opened the Rusk facility, at 189 Henderson, last spring, intentionally gearing programs to include family involvement because they felt it was the best way to help the community incorporate healthier lifestyles.
“We figure obesity starts at (the youth level, so the idea is) to get them out and moving,” teaching them to incorporate healthy habits while they're young, she said. “Really, we want to tackle obesity in Rusk Texas, with everybody, kids and adults.”
The gym – owned by Jenny, her husband and her parents – offers more than 50 different programs, including 10 for youths ages 8-18. The facility is open Monday through Saturday, from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
They've made it “as kid-friendly as possible because we want our clients to feel like they're part of the family … kids, too,” she said.
Sterling said the idea for the summer camps came up last year when he and his wife felt that they should offer something through the season since they were already doing after-school programs.
“A lot of kids like to sit around, get lazy over the summer … they sit in front the TV, play video games and stuff – we thought 'Why not keep it going through the summer?' So, we kept it going,” he recalled.
Two six-weeks programs were offered: One, for youths ages eight through seventh grade, the other, for older youths.
“Every day was based on a different sport – we played baseball, basketball, football, track, then we had one free day where we played a lot of games and stuff,” he said, adding that the inaugural camps drew 40 participants.
The spring break camp drew a smaller number – many of their regulars were on vacation, and therefore not able to attend, Jenny pointed out.
Still, participants said they enjoyed themselves, and encouraged their classmates to join in the fun.
“It's just a fun thing to do,” said 9-year-old Treyt'n Devereaux, who took part in last week's camp with his 11-year-old brother, Zayden. “(I tell my friends) they should start coming every day.”
12-year-old Seth Hoffman, whose mom inspired him to participate after school because of her own involvement at the guy, said he tells his friends “it's a fun experience, and that it's needed if you want to play sports.”
When he first joined, “I thought it would be more one-on-one and a lot smaller,” he said. “(But) I tried it and liked it, and kept going.”
Because teens like Seth are often involved in school sports programs, Sterling incorporates proper training techniques and conditioning into their regimen so that when they begin those sports, they know what to expect.
“We do a lot of cardio and conditioning, and different sports, (to work on) speed and agility. We work on all different things that they have going on during the year. If any individual comes to me and says, 'Hey Sterling, I need to work on this,' I say, 'okay, we'll work on that,'” he said.
Kids in the program also work with weights, though the couple said they are very careful to explain to the youths that they must be mindful of what their bodies can handle.
“We can't put a lot of weight on (younger participants) because their bones have not matured enough (nor do they have the necessary muscle mass to work with heavier weights),” Sterling said. “So if we do any kind of weight, it's going to be a light weight, and we teach the proper techniques for them.”
So far, the Pratzes said that their approach to family fitness – especially at the kid level – seems to be successful.
“The kids love it,” Sterling said. “It's not something they're made to come do after school every day, it's something they enjoy doing. Sometimes it can be difficult, but they see the benefits (from being committed to the programs).”
His wife added, “The cool thing is that some of their parents are also members of ours, so it's neat seeing them working out together as a family.”
“We have five or six families, at least, who are coming,” he said. “It's (very much for them) a family thing, and I do believe that it's help bringing them together because they all have something in common that they can talk about when they go home.”
And from there, Jenny said, these families can address the steps needed to make healthy lifestyle changes.
“And that's what we're trying to get into everybody's head. That you have to change your life, your lifestyle to be healthy and fit,” she said.
This summer, Beyond Fitness Gym will hold youth fitness camps beginning in June: The program for younger participants (ages eight through seventh grade) will be June 15 to July 15, while the one for older youths runs from June 22 to July 22.
The program will be offered two hours a day, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they said.
To learn more call Jenny Pratz at 903-393-3623, or Sterling Pratz, 903-393-2984. Information also may be found on their Facebook page, Beyond Fitness – Rusk, TX.