By John Denton
ORLANDO – The day prior to attending the Orlando Magic’s first-ever MAGIC FIT Program as an instructor, Aaron Gordon endured a track workout with an 800-meter run, two 400-meter dashes and four 200-meter sprints. As if that wasn’t enough, Gordon then lifted weights, went through basketball drills and returned to the team’s headquarters later that night for an open gym session.
So when Gordon spoke to more than 200 kids from several local community centers on Thursday, his passionate message about living a healthy lifestyle carried some extra weight. Gordon’s body was so fatigued from his off-season conditioning routine that he briefly battled cramps in his legs, but he still pushed through the session with the children in order to stress the importance of being fit.
“I make my living off my body and how fit I am. So to say being athletic or fit isn’t important, it’s completely false,” said the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Gordon, who was the No. 4 pick in June’s NBA draft. “One thing (being fit) does is it gives you confidence, and if you have confidence you can have a good lifestyle. Being fit is just a good way to live.”
Gordon and fellow first-round draft pick Elfrid Payton joined Magic Community Ambassadors Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw and several Magic staffers on Thursday to conduct the MAGIC FIT program for children from Jackson, Callahan Rosemont and Smith Community Centers.
MAGIC FIT is the team’s first-ever fitness and nutrition education program for youth. Following the NBA FIT guidelines, the program’s goal is to improve the knowledge of healthy food choices and fitness exercises among at-risk children within Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. NBA FIT is a comprehensive health and wellness platform promoting healthy, active lifestyles for children and adults. The NBA FIT initiative encourages physical activity and healthy living for children and families.
Health and wellness is one of the Magic’s community focus areas. Other areas of emphasis include hunger, homelessness, literacy/education, diversity and the arts.
“The Magic are excited to get this program started for the youth in our community,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Physical fitness and obesity are a large problem among today’s youth. We hope MAGIC FIT will make staying active and eating right a common practice among our children, while continuing to give the youth of our community the opportunity to participate in the game of basketball. Together we can use the game of basketball to point our youth toward a healthier future.”
Anderson, the first-ever draft pick in team history and the inaugural inductee into the Magic Hall of Fame, asked the children on Thursdayabout their eating habits and exercise routines. “How many of you young men and ladies eat healthy?” Anderson said. “What is healthy? It isn’t eating cookies and donuts. How many of you are getting enough exercise? Video games don’t count. You’ve got to get outside, play basketball, go for a swim or walk in the park.”
Gordon and Payton then helped put the kids through a variety of basketball drills and playfully interacted throughout. Payton, the No. 10 pick in last month’s draft largely because of his defensive skills, showed several kids the proper way to slide their feet while playing defense. Gordon, who is still two months away from his 19th birthday, playfully held a ball overhead while kids hung from his bicep.
“Something like this means a lot to me because the youth are the future and anytime that you can make a positive impact on them, it means a lot to the world,” Payton said. “We’re trying to make a transition here to be more fit as a whole, so anytime I can help it’s great.”
Orlando’s Kayla Balthazar, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Lake Gem Elementary School, said her favorite part of the day was going through a drill with Gordon where the group would run in place, shuffle their feet side to side, slap the floor while chanting “defense” and then fall to the floor to simulate drawing a charge.
“It’s so cool meeting (Gordon) and learning from him,” Kayla said. “It’s my first time ever meeting a star player like him. He’s fun and he’s helping us a lot.”
Gordon said that while growing up in San Jose, Calif., that he never got the opportunity to meet a professional athlete. He said that he takes his new platform as a role model for kids seriously and he wants to do whatever he can to make an impact on any many lives as possible.
“I mean, I come in here and their faces light up. I could really see the enjoyment on their faces. When me and Elfrid Payton from the Orlando Magic (come in) and they’re playing basketball, they’re trying to show off their skills and that does tons for their confidence and self-esteem. If I can have an impact on one person’s life, that would be awesome. It’s really cool.”
Reggie Brooks, a counselor at Jackson Community Center, lauded the Magic for cultivating a program that stresses the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Brooks said Thursday’s camp is further proof that the Magic are more than just a basketball franchise and instead an entity that also values making a difference with the youth.
“When we have snacks and brunch, we serve the kids apples and celery and we talk to them about eating healthy and not having so much junk food,” Brooks said. “They say, ‘NBA Cares,’ right? Well, the Magic are proof of that.”
To get involved in the MAGIC Fit program visit www.orlandomagic.com/MAGICFit.
Children of all ages attending schools and community centers in Orange, Seminole and Osceola are eligible to participate in the MAGIC Fit 8-week challenge. The MAGIC Fit 8-week challenge is a fun exercise program that rewards children for their dedication to being MAGIC Fit by completing the 8-week challenge.
Children that complete the MAGIC Fit 8-week challenge will receive great prizes including MAGIC Fit athletic gear. The MAGIC Fit 8-week challenge is available for download at www.orlandomagic.com/MAGICFit.
If your school or community center is interested in receiving more information about the MAGIC Fit program, please e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.