State-of-the-art exercise equipment replaces milk jugs on strings with help from 'Don't Quit!' grant

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Celebrity fitness instructor Jake Steinfeld cut the ribbon at Neil Armstrong Middle School Thursday morning to welcome students into their new fitness center. About 850 Neil Armstrong Middle School students clapped and cheered as fitness celebrity Jake Steinfeld visited their school Thursday morning, Sept. 21, to celebrate the installation of a new $100,000 fitness center.

Longtime Neil Armstrong Middle School teacher Bonnie Wenzl is usually lucky if she receives $500 a year for physical education equipment, she said, so the PE teacher was thrilled to hear earlier this summer that she and her students would be kicking off the new school year with a room filled with brand new workout equipment. It's a big upgrade from their makeshift "weight room" of milk jugs filled with water dangling at the end of strings.

"It's amazing," said NAMS eighth-grader Makaila Takahashi, a three-sport athlete and adaptive physical education tutor. "Before, it was just a couple of wrestling mats in the corner."

Eighth-grader Dana Mendoza said she's been using the workout room for the last few days and has noticed exercising is already helping her sleep better.

Seventh-grader Caitlyn Burford said she can't do a lot of physical activities because of her asthma, but the new indoor weight room doesn't aggravate her condition. "I already feel different in a good way," she said. "I feel healthy."

Over the summer, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that NAMS was one of three award winners statewide — each winning $100,000 to put toward TuffStuff Fitness Equipment.

After Wenzl's 30 years in the district, it's a nice legacy to leave as she prepares to retire at the end of the school year.

Wenzl submitted the paperwork last spring to the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils (NFGFC) for a "Don't Quit!" award and put together a video with help from fellow physical education teacher Darren Pang and other coworkers.COURTESY PHOTO - NAMS PE teacher Darren Pang demonstrates the use of the schools old fitness equipment, old milk jugs on strings.

Steinfeld said the video was concise and focused on the students as well as the school's need, so the selection committee knew right away they'd be choosing NAMS.

"The teachers are passionate, the people are genuine and the energy is fantastic," said Steinfeld, who founded FitTV, a 24-hour fitness lifestyle network. He's also a New York Times best-selling author and is famous for "Body by Jake," a personal-training style that's attracted celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It's just awesome to feel the true passion of people who love the kids and want to better their community."

The Don't Quit! campaign outfits schools across America with state-of-the-art fitness centers, using money from public and private partnerships from organizations like Nike and the Coca-Cola Foundation.

The center is in a large room attached to the school gym that originally housed the school's shop program, then later the art program. Both programs have since been cut so the room has been empty for years, Wenzl said.

The new workout room includes strength training, cardio fitness and circuit training equipment.

NAMS school counselor Linda Henderson said the students she sees benefit greatly from physical exercise throughout the day and NAMS special education teacher Austin Prather said his students value the time in gym class when they interact with mainstream students.

Don't Quit! staff set up the equipment and demonstrated its proper use.

Wenzl is hoping the new weight room will serve students, district staff members, other nearby elementary schools and local sports teams. Students won't be able to lift more than 50 pounds for safety reasons.

NAMS Interim Principal Osvaldo Garcia-Contreras welcomed Steinfeld and other city and district leaders — Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, city councilors Tim Rippe and Malynda Wenzl, and Forest Grove School Board members Valyrie Ingram and Mark Everett — with the help of the school choir and mariachi band.

Steinfeld told the middle school students about growing up as a "chubby" child with a stutter but gaining self-confidence and motivation when he dove into physical fitness. He encouraged the children to pursue physical fitness so they can be healthier and consequently miss less school and focus better in class.

"Maybe you've never been in a gym but you'll start to think that if I can do this, maybe I can do something else," he said. "When you look in the mirror you're the boss. You're in charge of you. The only person who's going to stop you from achieving your goals is you."

NAMS eighth-grader Kaden Clute found Steinfeld's talk inspiring, especially when Steinfeld spoke about being cut from his eighth-grade basketball team. "It's always the people who were cut — like Jake and Michael Jordan — who become inspiring," said Clute, who plays football. "This is great because I want my legs to be as strong as possible and we didn't have anything before."

Myles Tierney, an eighth-grader, said he was never really interested in working out before he saw the new weight room. "I was only interested in video games," he said. "But now I guess exercise can be fun, too."

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