Dallas -- Flanked by more than two dozen U.S. athletes, First Lady
on Monday announced an initiative to expose more than 1.7 million American children to Olympic sports.
Obama, who will lead the presidential delegation to the Opening Ceremonies in London this summer, said the new partnership between the U.S. Olympic Committee and her “Let’s Move!” initiative could inspire the next generation of gold medalists.
“Once they’re engaged, that’s when coaches and instructors can step in and become mentors,” she said. “That’s when being active can become a lifetime habit.”
The new partnership calls for the U.S. federations of several Olympic and Paralympic sports – including gymnastics, field hockey, soccer and track & field – to commit to expanding their youth programs nationwide. The U.S. Tennis Association, for example, is expected to introduce 620,000 children to its sport by training 4,000 physical education professionals in tennis curriculum for players under 10 years of age.
“That is so important because sometimes all it takes is that first lesson, or clinic, or class to get a child excited about a new sport,” she said.
Calling herself a lifelong Olympics fan, Obama recalled being inspired by athletes such as
, Mary Lou Retton and
“I would dream about how one day, if I worked hard enough, I could do something great,” she said.
More than a dozen Olympians joined Obama at the announcement, including gymnast Nastia Liukin, swimmer Natalie Coughlin and sprinter Wallace Spearmon, a Chicago native. Obama says as she watches the U.S. team march into the stadium during opening ceremonies, she will be thinking about the athletes’ ability to impact the lives of American children watching at home.
“In the end, some of these athletes will bring home the gold, but all of them…will inspire a generation of young people to get active, to strive for excellence and to pursue whatever dreams they may hold in their hearts.”
Obama unveiled the initiative during a brief appearance Team USA Media Summit, a three-day event that brings together journalists and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls ahead of the summer games. She has made fighting
one of her key causes during her husband’s tenure.
The first lady was introduced by Coughlin, the first U.S. female swimmer to win six medals in a single Olympics. Coughlin, who had told reporters earlier in the day that helping children lead healthier lives was one of her passions outside the pool, admitted to being nervous about welcoming the first lady.
Obama hugged Coughlin when she walked on stage and joked there was no reason for a world-class athlete to be star struck.
“You’ve got a lot of medals,” the first lady said. “No need to shake.”