When Ashley Ntansah first thought of the Urban Youth Athletic Challenge to be held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City on Saturday, May 10, he envisioned a modified version of a popular extreme sporting competition similar to the Spartan races.
By modified, he meant safe, but still capable of challenging the participants into doing their best and testing their ability to cope with some real physical challenges.
“I want kids to test their abilities,” he said.
Although he has been involved in exercise programs most of his life and on the local scene for almost a decade, Ntansah is introducing this challenge for the first time this year.
The challenge is a kind of obstacle course race in which participants run through a three mile course that features more than 20 challenges.
The race features four competitive age categories, although the youngest kids up to 6 years-old will be excluded from the tough parts, and will run about 1 mile in what he calls “a fun run.”
Although the complete course set up on the North Lawn at Liberty State Park is about three miles long, the total run for each group will be limited so that only the oldest kids will do the most grueling part of the competition. This included 6 to 8 year-olds who will run one lap (about 1 mile), 9 to 11year-olds, two laps (approx. 1.6 miles), 12 to14 year-olds, three laps (approx. 2.4 miles) and 15 to18 year-olds, four laps (approx. 3 miles).
“We want kids to go out, have fun, climb walls and get exercise.” – Ashley Ntansah
The first group will begin at 8:15 a.m. with each participant notified at registration about what time their group of about 15 to 25 kids will run. The groups will be staggered every 15 minutes in order to give runners a better chance to navigate the course before the next group starts.
Kids who find an obstacle too difficult can opt out of competing in that portion of the race.
The staff at Urban Youth Athletic Challenge consists of obstacle racing athletes, obstacle course designers, sales and marketing professionals, and caring parents who share a core belief in bringing creative, fun, mentally and physically challenging experiences to children
The idea, Ntansah said, is to give kids a sense of adventure, allow them to struggle to overcome something, and to feel the emotional impact of having completed something physical.
Kids, who associate fun with fitness, he said, are more likely later in life to adopt healthier habits, and the goal of this competition and Ntansah’s other projects around Hudson County is to create a healthy environment for the kids.
“I got the idea running my Fitness Performance School in Hoboken,” Ntansah said.
He said all kids deserve a moment of accomplishment, but not all kids do well in organized sports, and this is the kind of competition that allows each kid to shine in his or her own light.
Started out training adults
Although known fairly well locally for his work in kids’ fitness, Ntansah didn’t start out in that career. A native of Ghana, he grew up playing soccer at school, something he continued to play when he moved to London. When he came to the United States, he decided to pursue a career in fitness.
In the early 1990s, he worked his way up the ranks at New York Health and Racket Club – where he had also worked out and eventually became a trainer at Club H in Hoboken.
For years, his focus was on adult fitness. A father of two, he went to a track event at a local school and saw that the coach there had a lot to handle. He volunteered to help, and then discovered that he worked well with kids. They listened to him, and he seemed to get the most out of them.
The experience changed him and the direction of his career. He saw helping kids to attain a healthier life as a viable goal.
Already qualified as a fitness instructor, he got recertified by the International Youth Conditioning Association, and started Play Fitness Performance LLC, which does a number of programs in schools throughout Hudson County as well as fitness camps. He currently holds camp in Hoboken and Secaucus, and has been involved in afterschool fitness programs in North Hudson schools, he said.
“Why are we doing this?” he asked. “A lot of kids sit home and play video games. They watch professional athletes instead of going out and doing things themselves. We want kids to go out, have fun, climb walls and get exercise. They don’t need to be athletes. They don’t have to get on a sports team. This race is about competing against themselves, letting each kid be a team of one.”
This gives kids a boost of confidence without making them stand out of the crowd, which may be uncomfortable for some kids.
“The purpose is to go outside, play, exercise and get the experience,” he said.
A number of prominent sponsors have signed onto the event including the Jersey City Recreation Foundation and CarePoint Health. For more information about the challenge go to http://www.urbandyouthathleticchallenge.com.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.