Phil White nominated for WOWSA Man of the Year

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Phil White photographs swimmers at the 2012 Aquafest parade on Newport’s Main Street.   Photo by Joseph Gresser

Phil White photographs swimmers at the 2012 Aquafest parade on Newport’s Main Street. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle November 5, 2014

by Aaron Dentel-Post

Phil White, former IROC director who now runs Kingdom Games, is one of 12 people worldwide who have been nominated for the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) Man of the Year.

He’s among marathon swimming world champions with nicknames like “Ocean Walker” and the 73-year-old English Channel swimmer Otto Thaning, who is from South Africa.

Other nominees are from Great Britain, France, Estonia, Macedonia, and the Netherlands and have an impressive collection of accomplishments.

Mr. White has been nominated for outstanding organizer.

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Dandelion Run was in memory of Terri Weed

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The Bag Ladies of Newfane and Townsend warmed up for their race.  They are:  Sandy Stark, Melanie Keiser, Penelope Monaney, Kimberly McCormack, and Kim Colligan.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

The Bag Ladies of Newfane and Townsend warmed up for their race. They are: Sandy Stark, Melanie Keiser, Penelope Monaney, Kimberly McCormack, and Kim Colligan. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 5-21-2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

DERBY — Pouring rain early Saturday morning let off in time for a few hundred runners to take to the roadsides at 9 a.m. in the sixth annual Dandelion Run.

One relay team was ready for the rain with a kind of team uniform — garbage bags with holes for heads and arms. The ladies called themselves the Bag Ladies of Newfane and did a dry dance to scare the rain away.  Valerie Dillon manned the staff parking area fully equipped with head-to-toe rain gear, a fisherman-type hat, and an umbrella.

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Young pitchers and catchers take up yoga

copyright the Chronicle February 12, 2014

by Richard Creaser

NEWPORT — Jay Gonyaw has operated a clinic through the Junior Legion Baseball Program for area pitchers and catchers for the past eight years, first at IROC and now at North Country Union High School.  His coaching experience, however, goes back even further.  Mr. Gonyaw is also the coach of the North Country Falcons junior varsity squad.

“I coached my first time when I was 18 years old,” Mr. Gonyaw told the Chronicle on Tuesday.  “So I’ve been around baseball and coaching baseball a long time.”

What Mr. Gonyaw has noticed lately is that his young athletes often aren’t quite in the condition they should be.  To remedy that, he’s introduced an unlikely new element to his coaching regimen — yoga.

A number of factors contribute to the fact that  kids aren’t as limber as they once were.  They range from the widespread use of technology to a more stringent focus on single or double sport athletic training.

“You see it when a kid transitions from playing in one sport season and switching over to a different one in the next season,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “They have to be in great shape to play at a high level in one sport, but when they switch they end up sore.  They’re going from working one group of muscles to a completely different group of muscles, and their bodies just aren’t ready for that.”

The ability to adapt from one sport to the next has also declined as varsity athletes begin to focus more on a single sport instead of the two or three sports that athletes of his generation played, Mr. Gonyaw said.  Working on the muscle groups that are used most ignores the benefits that a more complete workout experience delivers to those muscle groups you use less frequently.

Back in the day when outdoor activities formed a major part of a child’s life, multiple muscle groups were always being tested.  Kids rode bikes through town, played soccer in the park, or swam at the local beach.  As “free-play” activities have diminished, so has exposure to different kinds of body workouts.  And that has affected the ability of athletes to meet the physical demands of their sports, Mr. Gonyaw said.

“I see a lot of kids coming into my clinic or at the start of the season and they are pretty stiff,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “It got me to thinking that the traditional stretching routine maybe isn’t working as well as it used to.  So I started to think outside the box.”

So Mr. Gonyaw and his fellow trainer Eric LeBlanc arranged for yoga instructor Rebecca Marcotte of Barton to come in and work with his players.  The first 30 minutes of each weekly session are dedicated to yoga stretching and the final 60 minutes to pitching and catching.

“We’ve been at it for five weeks of our seven-week clinic and we’re already seeing a big difference,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “I’ve had kids ask me why we didn’t do this sooner, so they’re really buying into it.  They’re seeing the value of what we’re doing.”

While the clinic focuses on pitchers and catchers, the benefits of yoga would apply equally across the diamond and the outfield, Mr. Gonyaw said.  Pitchers and catchers are the only players with direct interaction with every pitch but that doesn’t mean that the position players, or batters for that matter, wouldn’t benefit as well.

“A centerfielder or a left fielder might go a couple of innings without needing to do anything,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “But then they need to be ready to run at full speed and make the catch or make a throw right away.  That puts a lot of strain on the body.”

Not only will yoga help players perform at a higher level of readiness, but it should also help to avoid some of the more common injuries that occur during the season.  As short as the high school baseball season is in Vermont, by the time an injury has healed the season is effectively over for that player.

“I think we will see some early results when we start the daily practices in the spring,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “The real test will come at the end of the season when we see how many injuries we have or how many sore arms we have.  I really think that this is going to make a huge difference.”

Mr. Gonyaw intends to bring back yoga for his clinic in future years, and he also hopes to incorporate a ten- to 15-minute yoga routine in his daily practices and pre-game regimen.  As the student athletes become more comfortable with the yoga routines, he expects that players may also start to recognize the meditative benefits of yoga as well.

“I know of yoga mostly as a good way to stretch out your muscles and joints,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “But I can see a time when a batter or pitcher can step back and refocus for the next at-bat.  The mental part will come.”

Mr. Gonyaw’s annual pitching and catching clinic is open to a wide range of ages from 12 years old to 17 years old and to kids from all over.  This year’s group includes four catchers and 13 pitchers who work with Mr. Gonyaw and Mr. LeBlanc, a former pro baseball player.

“Eric really has an amazing understanding of what it takes to pitch at all levels,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “He understands the mechanics of each pitch and the benefits of a good stretching routine.  That really enhances the experience for everyone.”

The positive feedback from players so far indicates that Mr. Gonyaw’s unorthodox yoga regimen has hit a home run.  How well the yoga stretching philosophy extends beyond the kids in his clinic is yet to be seen.

“I definitely think there’s something here that would benefit all players in all sports,” Mr. Gonyaw said.  “If it helps them perform better and avoid injuries, it’s been totally worthwhile.”

 contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For more free stories like this one, please see our Sports pages.

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After IROC: White strives to continue outdoor events

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage.  Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games.  Photo by Tena Starr

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage. Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.

Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom.  Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes.   Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim.  Others will be new.

“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog.  He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered.  It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.

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Three-fourths of the region is overweight

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From left to right, Zylus and her sister Giada Hodges of Newport, and Autumn Walsh of Brownington enjoy healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box at Saturday’s screening of Weight of the Nation, sponsored by the district health department.   Photo by Tena Starr

From left to right, Zylus and her sister Giada Hodges of Newport, and Autumn Walsh of Brownington enjoy healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box at Saturday’s screening of Weight of the Nation, sponsored by the district health department. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — About 75 percent of the people in Orleans and northern Essex counties are either overweight or obese.  Thirteen percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are considered obese, as well as 11 percent of kids under five.

In the state as a whole, 28 percent of children and 58 percent of adults are either overweight or obese.  The rate of obesity in the Newport area is 31 percent, the worst in the state.

Those are some of the alarming statistics presented at Saturday’s filming of Weight of the Nation, an HBO documentary that tackles the challenges associated with the country’s growing rate of obesity, as well as the history of America’s weight problem.

The morning’s events, which included the movie, a brief discussion about what can be done, and a story walk and healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box, was organized by prevention specialist Jennifer Woolard at the health department’s Newport office.

Ms. Woolard said she hoped to start a conversation about how to have a healthier community.  Orleans County is the unhealthiest in the state, she said.

The reason for that perhaps mystifies Ms. Woolard, who noted that the area has parks, community gardens, sidewalks, good grocery stories, farmers markets, and bike paths.  It also has woods and fields, lakes and streams, and a thriving local food movement.

In other words, people in the Northeast Kingdom have access to both healthy food and ways to burn off calories.

That can’t be said of other parts of the country, inner cities, for instance, where children have no place to safely engage in physical play.  But it’s certainly true in the Northeast Kingdom, where many can just walk out the front door in order to ride a bike or go for a walk in a safe neighborhood.

The rate of Vermonters who don’t get enough physical activity is 17 percent, says the health department.  In this area, it’s 27 percent.

Ms. Woolard said she doesn’t have the answer; she simply set out to start a discussion and to offer information.  “We want to make it community driven, we don’t want to tell people what to do,” she said.

That was the message of the day.

“Today is not about blame or shame,” said Jim Burnett, director of the district health department in Newport.  “But we are not immune from the struggle of dealing with overweight and obese.  We are, sadly, on a trajectory, where maybe for the first time, our children may have a shorter life span than their parents.”

About 30 people attended the event, which was held at Waterfront Cinemas.

Access to both good food and ways to engage in physical activity are factors in the nation’s struggle with an increasingly overweight population, but so is income, and that might be the key to figuring out why one of the most rural areas of Vermont also has the highest percentage of overweight people.

The highest rates of obesity are among lower income Vermonters, according to the health department.  And Orleans and Essex counties are the poorest in the state, according to U.S. Census data.

The film, done in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine among others, is a captivating tour of human biology, U.S. food policy, and small steps that have been taken throughout the country to initiate change.

While it doesn’t abdicate personal responsibility, it does point out that obesity became epidemic in the country in the past 30 years for reasons that often go beyond personal choice.

When the U.S. government started keeping track, in 1900, of why people died the three main causes were pneumonia as a result of influenza, tuberculosis, and diarrhea.

Today, five out of ten untimely deaths are related to being overweight, according to the film.  Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, which leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, sleep apnea, heart trouble, and pain.

While the natural tendency is to look at the situation as a lifestyle choice, biology says the behavior was laid down a long time ago.  “Biology plays as much a role as psychology,” says one doctor in the movie.

For one thing, people aren’t genetically programmed to turn down calories.  Human DNA is programmed to ward against scarcity:  If food is available, eat it, and human DNA hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.  It certainly hasn’t changed in the last 30 years, although lifestyles have changed dramatically.

The audience laughed when the film pictured cavemen devouring a wild pig.  You really wouldn’t expect people of that time to take two bites and say I’m full now, says the narrator.  Humans are genetically programmed to eat what’s available while it’s available, she says.

And for thousands of years that worked out just fine since food wasn’t reliably plentiful, and it took a certain amount of effort to acquire it.

That’s the biology in a nutshell:  People are designed for a world of scarcity where food is not easily available, and it takes a substantial expenditure of energy to get it.  Humans are programmed to survive in a hunter gatherer world that no longer exists, at least in most cultures.

Enter agriculture.  Humans became farmers.  And, historically speaking, shortly after that, industrialized agriculture developed, at least in the U.S.  By the early twentieth century, the federal government had made cheap, plentiful food a priority.  But what to do with it?

What’s followed is a glut of corn and soy in the U.S., the film asserts, a glut that’s subsidized and is used to produce cheap, and unhealthy, food:  beef fed by cheap grain, sodas sweetened by cheap corn syrup, cookies, crackers, and snack foods that pack a high caloric punch and little nutrition.  The food the nation produces in mass quantities is inexpensive compared to fruits and vegetables, which receives no government subsidies.

It gets worse.

Humans became sedentary.  Instead of cultivating crops or doing other manual labor, they began to sit in front of screens, more and more screens all the time.  In fact, Americans are using less calories per day than in 1970, but consuming more.

And then came marketing.

Obesity goes up as income goes down, the film says.  In part, that’s because people are programmed to acquire as many calories as possible for the dollar.  The dollar menu at a fast food restaurant is a lure for poor families because it saves time, and it saves money.

The film goes on to note these grim numbers:  The profit margin for a soft drink is 90 percent.  The profit margin for fruits and vegetables is 10 percent.  Naturally, companies being in the business of making money, heavily market their most profitable products.

On the more sinister side, perhaps, is the fact that the federal government subsidizes the corn and soy industries, encouraging further production of cheap, but unhealthy, food.  The government is driving farmers, who are also interested in making a living, to overproduce food that isn’t good for the country as a whole, the movie says.

“The kind of food we eat is the kind that’s most profitable,” one analyst flatly says.  Another says it would cost the food industry between $36- and $40-billion a year if Americans cut 100 calories a day out of their diet.

Remarkably, the film says that this country doesn’t even produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the dietary needs of its citizens.

A brief discussion, led by Dr. Alan Rubin, followed the movie.  Some mourned the loss of IROC, which provided indoor recreation facilities.  Others mentioned what is available in the way of opportunities for exercise, which the area doesn’t lack.

Those who are interested in furthering the discussion are encouraged to contact the Healthworks Coalition at lesley.becker@neklsvt.org.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

To read the Chronicle’s editorial on this subject, click here.

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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