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Encouraging an Active Child

Wendy Swanson, mom of Shane, 4
Bloomington, Minnesota

In 2001, when my son, Shane, was born with spina bifida (a neural tube defect that occurs when the spinal cord doesn't fuse properly), my husband, Mark, and I were devastated. But we were determined to find out everything we could to give him as normal a childhood as possible.

Though Shane's partially paralyzed from the hip down and needs surgeries to drain the fluid in his brain (eight so far), there was one thing within our control: Children with spina bifida tend to be overweight because they're wheelchair-bound and have a difficult time staying fit. We didn't want that to be Shane's fate.

I knew that to help him to be active, we'd have to be creative in finding ways for him to exercise  -- and become role models. That meant Mark and I would have to make some major changes: We were out of shape, pizza and hamburger junkies.

We started eating healthier and going for walks after dinner (with Shane in his stroller). Then, with my sister's encouragement, I did a triathlon with her last year.

At first, training was discouraging  -- biking even two miles left me winded. But Shane was my biggest inspiration, and I used my workout routine to get him involved in fitness. He spends two hours daily using a walker that's molded around his legs. It takes a lot of effort for him to maneuver  -- he works up quite a sweat  -- but he smiles with each step.

Each night, he'd join me in the jogging stroller or bike trailer and then cheer while I swam in a nearby lake. Afterward, he'd do his "triathlon training." First, he'd race around the block in his wheelchair. Then, using his hand-pedal tricycle, he'd do a few more laps. This summer he learned how to swim by using floaters on his legs.

Our family's healthier than ever before. I've lost 30 pounds, and Mark has lost 15. After the triathlon, the winner of the race gave Shane her medal; he still wants to win his own someday. I have no doubt that he will.