The Role Model In You
1. Your name, title, and age? What do you do (or did you do) for a living?
Alexandra Allred, author and fitness instructor, 48.
I used to be on the US women’s bobsled team and did martial arts. Through sports I got to travel the world, meet amazing people and became a writer. When I go to schools to speak to students, I always ask for a show of hands of how many students love to read and write. Too many do not. Then I ask how many like to watch and/or participate in sports and almost everyone raises his/her hands. When I tell kids the names of all the professional and Olympic athletes I’ve spoken to, there is always a “whoa!” sound in the room. I tell them that by living a healthy life, by training to be strong, all things are possible. My opportunities came by way of being active, being strong, being healthy … all these things made me happy and more productive. When you are healthy, you FEEL energized. I love that my two professions, my two worlds, fit together so nicely.
2. Who was the person that inspired you as a child to eat healthy and stay fit? What was their relationship to you?
My father was a U.S. diplomat. He gathered military intelligence and because of that, he understood that being in top physical condition would make him a better, stronger officer. My entire life, I watched my father swim and run. He was always running races and leading his fellow officers to also stay in shape. My mother also became a runner. When my mother was 69 years old, she ran a half marathon! Both my parents, in their 70s, continue to work out.
3. What did they do to inspire you?
It is not just about jogging or going to the gym. As I grew up, living around the world, they taught me to embrace different foods. Today, I see kids who do not eat good foods. That is bad. They are stuck in a world of fast food and no one cooks at home. But another disturbing thing I have seen is kids AND adults do not understand how foods work for our bodies. IN the United States, we try to get as much food as we can for the cheapest price possible and focus more on salty/sweet tastes more than how it can fuel our bodies. Living in countries such as Tunisia or Russia, I learned what popular foods were, how they were prepared and how it helped a body grow. You should know what a carbohydrate is — good vs. bad. How many people think a french fry is a good carbohydrate? Ugh. Living abroad, we would walk down to the local bakery every morning. With my own kids, I have taught them how to read labels on food and choose foods that will help them last longer in a soccer game or track meet. How can you be a great athlete with terrible fuel? I think the greatest thing my parents did for me was to not only teach me about food but they showed me as well. That is, they didn’t tell me not to eat this or not to eat that … we did not have a lot of junk food in the house, we went to food markets and bought fresh, whole foods. Then, we cooked together and were active. They led by example!
4. How did their lesson change your life?
1. They taught me to cook.
2. They taught me how to shop.
3. They taught me to LOVE working out and feeling strong.
Now, having said all that, they taught me to be fearless. Try new things. I have a food story and a fitness story.
While we were living in Tunis, Tunisia, I had noticed a giant cow head hanging from a hook outside a market. My first thought was “GROSS!” But I also saw that the owner of the small market had stuffed flowers up the cow’s nose. I asked my father about the flowers and he said the flowers told us how fresh the meat of that cow was. Two days later, we drove by the market and I saw the flowers, wilted and dying, in the cow’s nose. My father said, “Now the meat isn’t as good.” As it happened, we got meat from the cow (on the first day) and I was served cow tongue. Yuck. But I tried it. I can honestly tell you as an adult, I don’t have any desire to eat cow tongue but I know what it tastes like. I also never forgot how the cow’s head looked and it gave me such an appreciate for how we use and prepare food.
When I was a young adult, I thought I might try bobsledding. Bobsledding? Who in their right mind just tries bobsledding? Well … me. And the reason is because I thought I could. And I thought I could because I was raised to believe that if I’m strong and active and adventurous (yes, you are adventurous in trying new foods, too), anything is possible. So, why not? It was very hard, sometimes a little scary (like a roller coaster gone crazy!) but I was willing to work hard. I love to work to the point of feeling so tired I don’t even know if I can sit up anymore. Woo hoo!!
5. Do you convey their message to kids in your life presently?
YES!!! When I was on the bobsled team, Powerbar, Inc. was my sponsor and I would get boxes and boxes of Powerbar sent to my home. At that time, I had two very little girls. Each day, I would let them both eat a Powerbar. They never ate fast food or candy bars. In fact, they thought the Powerbar was a candy bar. They were almost never sick. They were strong and active and healthy. Today, they are 17 and almost 20 years old. They are avid runners, have run half marathon and 10k races and together, as a family, we do “mud runs” where we run over obstacles courses and crawl in the mud. So much fun! I have three kids now and we do not eat fast food and none of my kids like greasy foods or sodas. They are lean and happy and strong. Best of all … they understand what food is. They grew up trying new recipes and vegetables and fruits. They know how to read labels on food but the best part is this ….. even when I am not around, they really do not want fast food. I couldn’t pay Katie, my middle one, to eat a McNugget! No way.
But I also teach at a community college and a majority of my students are 18 and 19 years old. So many of them are unhappy about their weight, fitness level, skin condition. Many are depressed, tired and very unhappy in life. I teach Pilates and kickboxing and it is AMAZING how much they change in just one semester. I talk to them about diet and food choices and what soda does to your body. As I tell them, if your drink or food is made up of chemicals .. your body does not know how to process and digest it so it shunts it to your liver and it is stored in your body as a poison. How can you feel strong and happy if you’re storing poison in your liver? I tell my students … “They best way to know if something is good for you is this … read the label. If you understand what it says it is, its most likely natural.” When you are reading words you can’t even pronounce, much less understand … how can this be good for you? Whole foods … apples, oranges, grain, wheat, free-range chicken, fresh dairy … these are REAL foods.
And guess how many 18 year old boys come into my class and cannot even do half of the push up that I can do. I tease them. “Are you going to let a 48 year old woman beat you?” But I always do. When you are filled with bad food, it changes your body. It makes you weaker, more tired, less agile and athletic. By the end of the semester, my kids understand WHY knowing what food does is so important. Even better, most more then triple the amount of push ups and sit ups they could do when the semester first started. They feel proud. They feel strong. They are happy and most join the gym and take classes on their own time.
6. What would be your main message to children today to lead healthy lifestyles?
We are blessed to be given a body … we cannot abuse it or neglect it. Only and ONLY when you start to feel stronger do you really understand what this means. Why not be as strong as you can be? Wouldn’t you love to be able to meet amazing people, feel strong and empowered, do things you never thought possible and be proud of yourself?
Here’s how: Ask your family and/or friends to sign up for a 5k. That is 3 miles. Start to train to do this together. You will be amazed how much fun it can be and once its over and you’ve done it … you will be so proud of yourself!
7. Do you have a web site you would like to promote….web address only?
Kids are welcome to look at my website as I do talk about the importance of air quality and public health. www.allredbooks.com