COSTA MESA — Eight weeks ago, Nathalie Ayapantecatl struggled — along with about half of her peers — to run just one lap without stopping. It took hard work, but now the 8-year-old can run several laps.
And after eight weeks of after-school activities that revolved around getting fit, Nathalie was one of 28 third-grade students at Whittier Elementary School who graduated Friday afternoon from the Newport-Mesa Family YMCA's Earn A Bike program.
Each graduate walked away with a new beach cruiser bike, helmet and lock.
The program was developed to educate children on healthy eating and to encourage them to exercise, which ultimately reduces their risk of Type 2 diabetes, said Dr. Jenna Flowers, chairwoman of the Newport-Mesa YMCA's healthy lifestyles committee.
"If we really want to target obesity and change nutrition, we have to start with little kids," she said.
The students participated in nutrition classes, yoga lessons, running and a boot camp, and also played soccer. Parents even got involved by attending the nutrition classes through the Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Children's Hospital of Orange County.
"It was fun, and they showed us healthy stuff," said 9-year-old Xitlally Mendez.
Nathalie said she feels healthier, and has started eating apples and exercising more.
Both girls said they want to continue with what they have learned. Xitlally said she feels she has gained some important lessons.
"If I didn't know about this," she said, "I would be kind of fat and I wouldn't be healthy."