To Your Health: Iti Salun-At Yo

Health is the essential foundation for effective employment, regardless of age, educational standing, or position held. Without health, the quest for wealth and the struggle for survival becomes equal. The richest and the poorest have the same need when they become unhealthy, requiring equal attention, treatment and care to bring them back to recovery and ultimately a return to the state of being healthy. Every September we as a nation observe Labor Day, to give recognition to all the workers we rely upon daily, and whom we often take for granted, until their services are halted, by design or not. A healthy labor force is the bedrock of any nation’s economy. Where this fact is honored and given attention, employees are provided time in their work day for exercise, healthy eating, strategic rest, and the health benefits of social networking.

Vernon Patao is shown here in Peoria Illinois in the clean-and-jerk lift that guaranteed him a slot on the 1992 American Olympic Team

Health took the spotlight to become a national focus in the United States in 2010, when then President Obama signed an Executive Order to launch the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, outlining an emphasis on both good nutrition and physical fitness. Then First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the Let’s Move Initiative, joined by youngsters in the Washington D.C. area, enjoying full media coverage of a variety of events including jumping rope, making healthy snacks, juggling, planting the garden next to the White House and creating physical fitness presentations in schools and other venues. The underlying belief and hope in these initiatives, which the first couple led by example, was to habituate youngsters to the self-discipline of healthy activities, in order to move the nation towards healthy choices. The ultimate result, if continued, would be a new generation of more productive workers, a labor force with collectively less illness, leading to happier families and an overall sense of taking care of each other for the betterment of all.

Vernon Patao made many friends during his journey to excellence in his athletic aspirations.

Co-Chairs of the President’s Council were Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, and guest blogger Dominique Dawes, three-time Olympian and former U.S. national champion in women’s gymnastics. In the process, Council leadership encourages all Americans to take steps in improving their overall health. In the words of our Olympic gymnast, “I have dedicated my time to educating others about the importance physical and emotional health.”

The Council was charged not only to focus on getting Americans active but also with promoting the “collective responsibility, accountability and health benefits of good nutrition,” as the key factor of being healthy, fit and strong. We are reminded that “Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, choosing whole grains and drinking water will give you the energy to power through your day.” Continuing, Dawes writes, “We are challenging the American people to take control of their health. Think about how you get from one place to the next—choose to bike or walk with co-workers instead of drive, to play with your friends in the park instead of turning on the computer after school, to do sit ups while watching TV or to plant a garden with your neighbors instead of watching the grass grow, and eating those vegetables for lunch and dinner each day.”

The Council’s summary of facts and statistics provides compelling reasons for alarm related to lack of physical activity, dismal eating habits and a trending prevalence of obesity, especially among children and youth. The report also highlighted the human and financial costs of obesity, estimating that by 2018 this condition will cost the U.S. 21 percent of our total healthcare costs, or $344 billion annually. Another warning point to obesity as a growing threat to our security, as “27 percent of young Americans are too overweight to serve in the military, where 15,000 potential recruits fail their physicals every year because they are unfit.”

Growing up here on Maui, where the weather is great all year round, allowed me to be very active in a variety of physical activities including soccer, football, golf, surfing, diving and weightlifting, to name a few. Heading into high school, I dreamt of playing in the NFL, so I decided to tag along with my brother to a local garage gym for strength training. This is where I quickly accepted the fact that my 5’5”, 135 pound frame was not cut out for professional football, as former football All-Stars were training there as well, one of them standing 6’4” at 265 pounds.
In the months of tagging alongside my brother to the garage gym, I developed a close relationship with the owner, Doctor Nelson Yogi. He quietly encouraged me to try out weightlifting, since my physical stature would be much better suited to that sport than professional football. It did help to walk into a gym where there were a five-time National Champion and former American record holder, in addition to three other nationally ranked weightlifters.

Timing could not have been any better to devote my athletic career to weightlifting. Fast forward 12 years: two Olympic teams, three National titles and a couple of American Records. I traveled around the world doing what I loved to do, compete in weightlifting. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined those accomplishments under my belt. I am truly grateful for a handful of people who have been paramount in helping to achieve my dreams. I need to say that NONE of this would have been possible without Doc Yogi. He was my trainer, teacher, coach, mentor and Father Figure. Doc was and still is the catalyst behind the Vision, for which I am now determined to follow through.

This amazing journey through life has led me to this point, where I feel the need to give back to our community. Never had I thought of opening a gym to promote health, fitness, and wellness to our youth through athletics—until a few years ago. This Vision has now become a reality, with the opening of “OUR” gym, HI Performance Athletics, a little more than four years ago. I have been fortunate with my weightlifting success, for building a platform to promote what is most important: Health, Fitness and Wellness through athletics, starting with our youth.

Vernon Patao is Maui born, island trained and public school educated at Lihikai Elementary, Maui High School, and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Before the Olympics he ranked three times as U.S. champion. As an Olympic weightlifter he won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. Today he is a firefighter and an enthusiastic coach and teacher for many who seek to be healthy and fit, especially for those who go to his gym regularly.

Our motto is PLAY TO WIN. What do we mean by PLAY TO WIN? Well, there are a few definitions for the word PLAY in our motto, but the one we base our program on is: to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Yes, all activity, exercise or sport revolves around one element: FUN. Coupling FUN with SAFETY and SMART training completes our program. When we all can enjoy the lifelong process of fitness, the outcomes will always be a WIN for everyone involved.

Our society has drifted far from the objective of playing to have fun. The focus on winning has taken over the ideal of “Being the Best You Can Be.” As a result, young athletes are being pushed to the brink of injuries and unhappiness. Parents are also influenced by programs selling them the pipe dream of believing their child will be a collegiate athlete or a Lebron James in basketball, or a Tiger Woods in golf, or a Lionel Messi in soccer.

Good Fitness, Health and Wellness can be achieved by approaching it with the right mind set. What exactly is that mind set? Again, it all begins with FUN, while being Safe and Smart. By keeping the element of FUN in the program, the minds of our future generations shall remain open to absorb all the good that comes their way. General physical activity develops a fitter, healthier, and happier youth, physically and mentally. Run, play, swim, climb, tumble, jump, laugh. Encourage kids to participate in organized sports. It teaches them many different aspects of life lessons critical to becoming successful adults: work ethic, teamwork, commitment, passion, perseverance, respect, trust, sacrifice, leadership, critical thinking, and improves Fitness, Health and Wellness.

Today our community is saturated with fitness facilities, Crossfit Boxes, strength and conditioning programs, and the latest fitness fads. Health and fitness businesses are projected for growth for the next ten years, as demonstrated in communities of all sizes across the nation and the world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, health care has over 16 million employees with annual revenues of $1.7 trillion. Maui shows these trends as well, with a visible increase of options, as well as the ongoing choice to create a gym at home, or include physical activity in one’s routine.

Find a program with a Certified Coach and staff who, most importantly, have the experience to back those certifications. Having our youth participate in physical activities will shape and build more resilient, self-motivated and happier individuals. Seek out a program where FUN with SAFETY and SMART training are top priorities in building a stronger next generation.
Let’s all PLAY TO WIN!