By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — Mark and Lexie Thiel like to watch football together. But until last year, playing the game might have been impossible for the father-and-daughter team.
"For the longest time, I was struggling with my weight," said Lexie, 17, who quit soccer to play volleyball but never seemed to make her school team. "It was getting bad and I knew I needed to do something."
At about the same time, Mark was diagnosed with diabetes.
"I had pretty good control, but I was missing my mark," he said.
That's when Mark's wife, a nurse, learned about the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA Youth WOW program and encouraged Lexie to participate. The four-month weight management and healthy lifestyle program is for youth from 10 to 17. It includes group nutrition sessions with a Munson Community Health Center dietitian, group training sessions with YMCA fitness staff, and a four-month Y membership for the whole family to work out together.
"It works because we look at everything," said Diane Roach, who teaches the nutrition part of the program, which emphasizes behavioral changes rather than dieting. "It addresses nutrition and eating styles, habits and information, as well as exercise. In all the evaluations, exercise is listed as the fun part. Fun activities and learning new sports is what's making this rock."
Roach said parents are involved in the nutrition component of the program because family systems change slower. Participants learn things like appropriate portion sizes, eating slowly and tuning into their "fullometer," mindful instead of unconscious eating, smart eating when dining out, and green-, yellow- and red-light foods.
But few parents have been as supportive as Mark when it comes to the fitness portion of the program.
"We're already really close, and to do this together is one more thing," said Lexie, who began working out with her dad and playing games like pickleball, tennis and raquetball. "When there's two people you can say, 'If you can do it, I can do it.'"
Over the course of 16 weeks, the Traverse City West High School senior lost four inches around her waist and, more importantly, gained conditioning. She no longer huffs and puffs going up stairs and has more breath control, which comes in handy when she sings with her school choirs.
"The first couple of weeks I was unsure about it and then I fell in love with it," said Lexie, who began coming to the Y even on off-class days and got a scholarship to repeat and help out with the program. "No matter how bad my day went, I was happy when I left the gym.
"You slowly start to realize the toning. The clothing fits better, you look better."
Now she eats a healthy breakfast, which encourages her to eat healthfully all day, watches what and when she eats, and runs for about 15 minutes a day to "warm up." When she can schedule it around her advance placement classes, she works with weights and cardio training at the Y. She and Mark also walk, hike and cycle together around their home and participate in area 5K races.
"She's very astute at looking inside herself at what motivates her and drives her," Mark said.
Roach said Lexie's results aren't unusual among program participants.
"They all improve their fitness levels. Every one of them can go up stairs easier. Just about every one lost inches around the waist, and BMIs (Body Mass Index) go down," she said. "The most important thing is empowering them. They see that exercise is fun and, 'Gee, I can run.'"
A new winter Youth WOW session begins Jan. 9. The cost is $272 for Y members and $392 for non-members. Scholarship assistance may be available.
For more information or to register, call 933-YMCA (933-9622) or print out the scholarship form at www.gtbayymca.org. The deadline to register is Jan. 4.