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Photo by Dana Pavek/WDC schools Carrie Tollefson listens to a question from a WDC cross country athlete. WDC cross country coach Terry Olson is also pictured.

Olympian runner inspires WDC students

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Olympic runner Carrie Tollefson shared her story with Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary students on Wednesday, hoping to encourage and motivate them to achieve their dreams, eat healthy and be active.

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Growing up in the small town of Dawson, Minn., as a seventh-grader, Tollefson told students she wasn't quite sure what she wanted to get involved in at school. She decided to join the cross country team, thanks to the influence of her older sister who was also on the team.

This was just the beginning of Tollefson's journey of becoming an Olympic athlete. She went on to win her first Minnesota cross country high school championship in the eighth grade, then won four more to set a state record. Altogether, she won 13 state high school championships before heading to Villanova University, where she excelled once again.

She then competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece and is currently training for the Olympic Trials in July 2012. The energetic, vivacious 33-year-old is running 60 to 80 miles a week - this after having a baby girl less than 6 months ago.

Tollefson told fourth- and sixth-grade students to follow their own dreams.

"There may be an Olympian right here [in this classroom] or a doctor or a teacher," she told students. "Start thinking about what you want to do. Get involved. Start dreaming those dreams."

Besides sharing her Olympian story, Tollefson was at WDC Schools to promote eating locally-grown produce as part of Farm-To-School Week in Minnesota. As the official spokesperson for the Minnesota Grown Program, she travels around the state sharing her passion for healthy eating and encouraging families to buy food with the Minnesota Grown label. The Minnesota Grown Program is a statewide partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesotans who grow or raise specialty crops and livestock.

Tollefson believes that eating right is very important whether you're an Olympic athlete or just trying lead a healthy, active life, she said.

"You only have one body and one heart, so you need to take care of it," she told students. "I challenge each of you to move your bodies every day. I love to exercise, but I love to eat more!"

Tollefson got students out of their desks too, teaching them a couple of fun exercises to get their hearts pumping. "Do these exercises every day and encourage your parents to join you," she said.

Wadena-Deer Creek Schools was selected to be part of the University of Minnesota Extension's "Fresh Fruits and Vegetables" pilot program. According to Sandie Rentz, WDC Food Services Director, this pilot program complements the school's current program of serving preschool through sixth-grade students a fresh fruit or vegetable every day.

"This is a great opportunity for us to expand the Farm to School program into our daily fresh fruits and vegetable program. We are fortunate to be selected. This is yet another nutritional benefit for our students," said Rentz.

Farm to School connects schools and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.

Next week, Gregg and Joan Goeden of Wadena will deliver fresh sweet corn to WDC Elementary for students to enjoy as part of their lunch and the Farm to School program.

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