Living in a village with little crime, a superior school system and a significantly higher level of education and income than the rest of the country makes Scarsdale residents immune to some of the uglier realities of the modern world – one of the many reasons people move here in the first place.
But as much as Scarsdale can seem like an idyllic village that magically shields villagers from grim visions of strip malls, big box stores, hideously styled bangs and tacky stretch leggings, nothing can protect residents from the hulking specter of obesity that’s skulking over town like an unsightly hot air balloon.
“It’s real, and it’s because of our lifestyles,” Mike Barnow, an exercise expert, told Patch. “But it’s fixable. Everyone is trainable – I’m not an elitist. I am just as happy working with kids who can’t run for more than three minutes straight as I am with career athletes.”
Just how real is the obesity epidemic in Westchester? According to the latest stats available from the Center for Disease Control, 18.7 percent of Westchester residents are obese -- compared with 28.2 percent of Americans nationwide. So although Westchester County is still one of the skinniest counties in the country, there are obviously some “problem areas” that could use a little work.
As luck would have it, Barnow, running coach extraordinaire, is here to help. Not only will he show residents and their children how to sweat off any sign of a paunch, he’ll provide them with a foundation for better habits moving forward and a priceless insight into their body’s innate abilities.
Barnow has coached seven Olympic athletes, 40 athletes who have qualified for the U.S.A. Nationals and hundreds of committed coach potatoes. In his spare time, he has helped dozens of runners from war-torn and poverty-ravaged countries in Africa find new homes and careers in America.
Barnow has more than 30 years of coaching super stars under his tightly cinched belt – but he’s just as willing to throw in his lot with a pack of under-exercised 9-year-olds as he his with the world champions, college runners and high school athletes he spent his career training.
“We drive kids around the block now to get soda,” Barnow said. “They often have no idea just how lucky they are. When they get to know my assistant coach [from Ethiopia] and learn more about his childhood running three miles to school and back – and sometimes home for lunch and back – suddenly running around a track for a few minutes doesn’t seem as tough.”
“I get some kids who come to camp who don’t ever exercise,” Bernow continued. “By the time they leave, they can run a mile, sometimes two. I build them up slowly, by playing games. I believe in training realistically, and I’ll never try to get anyone to do something they are not capable of. The only way to get kids or adults to commit to running is by making it fun.”
Barnow founded the Westchester Track Club in 1973, a two-tiered club for elite and recreational running adults, and he has been working with the Youth Running Club in Scarsdale for about 20 years. For the past six years, Abiyot Endale, an Olympic Gold Medalist from Ethiopia, has been helping Barnow shape Scarsdale's bodies and minds.
To Barnow, getting kids in prime condition has as much to do with their mental as their physical state. He finds that his hobby of hosting African refugees comes in handy in both departments.
“My connection with Africa began in 1982 when I was at a Harvard Invitational and I met a Somalian runner named Jama Aden,” Barnow said.
One thing led to another, and Barnow soon he found himself coaching and sheltering runners and refugees from Morocco, Uganda, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. In addition to vastly improving their running times, Barnow helped many of them find permanent homes and jobs in America. Now, Barnow says they're all members of his “extended family,” and many have toured schools with him and worked one on one with kids.
“No one has to try out,” Barnow said. “We just want to get these kids to move. By the time they leave, they’ll be running.”
They’ll also be able to point out where Uganda is on a map.
To sign up for either the Youth Running Club or the Westchester Track Club, email Mike Barnow at email@example.com . Children in the 3rd-8th grades are welcome. Practice is scheduled in Crossway Field on Mondays and Wednesdays between 4:15 -5:15 p.m, April 27-June 15. The fee is $150.