SWANTON — “We’re going to change the words ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can,’” Jake Steinfeld boomed to a crowd of Thunderbirds early Thursday morning.
“Because here’s what’s going to happen when you start to exercise…you’re going to think to yourself, ‘If I can do this, what else can I do?’”
Steinfeld had students, teachers, administrators — and Gov. Phil Scott — fired up about fitness and their own potential during the unveiling of the new $100,000 fitness center at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School.
MVU was one of three schools in Vermont on Thursday to receive a fitness center from the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils.
Principal Dan Palmer, physical education teacher Tessa Massett and athletic director John Lumsden applied for the center last winter, and MVU was selected from a pool of 68 other applicants. Milton Middle School and Essex Middle School also won fitness centers.
In 2006, Steinfeld partnered with then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to launch the foundation. Since then, Steinfeld has worked with 46 other governors across the country to deliver fitness centers to deserving schools.
“This is a gift,” Steinfeld said. “And the best part about it is that it will really start to give after we leave.”
The fitness centers include weights machines, spin bikes and more and are funded by public-private partnerships and donations from companies including Coca-Cola and Nike.
Captivating the audience with his big voice and high energy, Steinfeld told students gathered in MVU’s performance center that when he was their age, he was an overweight kid with a stutter.
“I had low confidence and low self-esteem,” he said. “But then one day when I was 13, my dad bought me a set of weights and they changed my life.”
Not only did those weights build up his body, but they built his confidence. Being active has benefits beyond the physical, he said. Exercising can boost your immune system, strengthen your mental health and increase your performance in school.
Gov. Scott, who came to help cut the ribbon of the new fitness center, agreed.
“I’m a cyclist, and [riding my bike] is something that I really enjoy doing,” he said. “Staying active is how I balance the responsibilities and the stress I have being governor. It gives me an opportunity to clear my head and think about the challenges ahead and how to face them. Some of my best ideas come as I am exercising.”
Steinfeld said exercising increases endorphin levels, or chemical signals that relieve pain and produce positive feelings. He encouraged students to move their bodies when they are feeling down, because a smile is sure to come to their face.
And when you feel good, you can achieve your dream, whatever it might be, Steinfeld said.
“We need more smiles, especially now. The world is crazy,” he said. “We need everybody working together, reaching their dreams. So don’t quit.”
Rep. Matt Walker (R-Swanton) said the unveiling on Thursday was doubly exciting for him, as both a state representative and MVU’s boy’s basketball coach. He is looking forward to having his players utilize the space during practices.
Steinfeld told school administrators that he hopes they will consider opening the fitness center before and after school, so as many students can access the space as possible. He wants it to be a “community hub” that can even be utilized by family and community members.
Before the celebration’s end on Thursday, Steinfeld and Gov. Scott gathered the entire school for a group photo. On the count of three, Thunderbirds pointed at the camera and shouted “Don’t Quit!”