Apolo Ohno, the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian of all time, inspired Kennedy Middle School sixth-graders with an appearance sponsored by The Century Council, which promotes healthy lifestyles and avoiding underage drinking.
“You guys inspire me because the future of this nation lies in your hands,” the speedskater told the audience. “Some of the lessons that I’ve learned over the years, you can carry over into your own lives. And I know you guys are on the fence where you can go either way, where the decisions you make now can affect you for the rest of your life.”
Ohno, an eight-time Olympic medalist, was joined by Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker in helping to reinforce a healthy lifestyle for the select group of students. After he finished speaking to the group, Ohno guided them through an interactive, Wii-style game in which students maneuver through obstacles before facing a lifestyle- or alcohol-related issue. The game was part of The Century Council’s “Ask, Listen, Learn” school program.
Sixth-grader Jacarri Allen (pictured above, left) set the example as he shifted and moved his feel back and forth as he dodged the obstacles and answered his questions.
“You get to do exercises and learn not to drink alcohol,” said Allen, who added he was surprised to learn that alcohol wasn’t consumed by only adults. “Now I’m more aware of what it can do to you. Before, I just thought you could get drunk and then maybe some bad thinks might happen to you. But now I realize it can do so much more. … I want to keep my brain functioning because I want to go to Morehouse College. I want to be a police officer or a forensic scientist.”
Ohno, whose own foundation promotes sports among youths from all socioeconomic backgrounds, also fielded questions from students before posing for pictures. When asked by one student what was the most difficult obstacle he’s encountered, Ohno replied, “That inside chatter. You can second-guess yourself. That’s always the biggest obstacle: not listening to the ‘other’ Apolo. The same goes for you. You alls hould have confidence in yourselves.”
Kennedy Principal Lucious Brown said the appearance is all part of the school’s dedication to ensuring students make healthy lifestyle decisions. The school hosts health fairs each semester, which includes an alcohol and drug section. The school also hosts a Family Night, a carnival in December which also includes information on alcohol abuse. “Events like these give them the confidence to make the right decision among their peers,” Brown said. “They’re in that transitional age. That’s where those decisions are so important. With our programs, you can definitely see the difference in the kids now. They’re believing in themselves to make the right decision on alcohol.”
Ohno agreed about the importance of reaching the students at this age: “It’s a big challenge growing up in middle schools. People might be surprised with the kind of access to alcohol children have at that level. I was very blessed to have sport come into my life. Maybe these kids won’t have the Olympics, but they can have an Olympic mind-set.”
The 40 sixth-graders were chosen based on their academic record (which included those with the greatest gains made), as well as their citizenship. The timing of the event was prescient; according to The Century Council, 39 percent of U.S. children have tried alcohol.