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Making Fitness a Family Focus
Marilyn Wards Color Run team No Excuses! prior to participating in the run. - photo by Photo provided.

The Smoyers were not a family that exercised together until they met a woman who changed their outlook on health and fitness.
“I met Marilyn when she was living in my neighborhood, and she started a boot camp,” said Kelly Smoyer, a Richmond Hill resident and mom. “Depending on the weather and the gnats, you’d see a group of women walking down the street doing lunges and hopping like bunnies. From there, it led to nutrition education.”
Marilyn Ward is the founder and director of Fit Family USA, a nonprofit. Her goal is to aid in the fight against childhood obesity by bringing the entire family together for fun activities, education and support.
“There has to be unity in the family. It works better together. If the mom’s overweight and she’s telling the kid to go outside and ride a bike, it’s not going to work,” she said.
As a certified personal fitness trainer, group instructor and nutritionist, Ward studied obesity while working on her master’s degree. Through her work in gyms, she realized individual training wasn’t as effective as she would like it to be.
“I would work with a young teen and ask them what their nutrition was like. They would say, ‘Well after this we are in a hurry so my mom will take us to McDonald’s.’”
Comments like that, combined with the fact that most gyms offer separate fitness programs for children and adults, led Ward to take a new approach.
“I knew I could reach the whole family if I went into homes. When I was overweight, I was too embarrassed to go into a gym. I train in the comfort of the home until you’re ready to move on,” Ward explained.
That’s exactly what happened when Ward began working with the Smoyer family.
“Kelly was part of my boot camp class I held in my subdivision, and she came to me for advice about her teenage son,” Ward said. “Together, we came up with some healthy food options as well as fun physical activities to keep him active. As always, I try to get the whole family involved.”
“I grew up with frozen meals and hamburger helper, it was all about convenience. There was never any sense of healthy eating,” Smoyer explained.
She said that as her kids were growing up, they would always choose what tasted better — chips versus an apple, for example.  
Ward coached Smoyer about food nutrition, discussing concepts such as when it is appropriate to eat carbs and how to spike metabolism.
Smoyer said her family isn’t “quite there” physically, but it is getting better. Taking simple steps, such as converting to whole grain or vegetable-based pasta and cutting back on potatoes, rice and soda, has made a big difference.
“For many months the kids would say, ‘Uh, another healthy dinner!’ Now their plates consist of more vegetables and a healthy protein size. I learned you don’t need an entire chicken breast,” Smoyer said.
“I don’t even shop at the grocery store the same way anymore. I don’t go to the middle aisles anymore. I haven’t reached the stage of only shopping organic and non-GMO,” she continued. “There’s probably still more I could do to change, but it’s one step at a time. Just seeing my son grab an apple instead of pretzels and Chex Mix is a huge step. They come home from school, and they know I’m going to ask what fruit did they have today.”
As far as exercise, Smoyer and her family make it a point to get out of the house, even something as simple as going for a walk to the dock and back. They also stepped out of their comfort zone and participated in the 5K Color Run in Savannah last year.  
Ward inspires others by sharing her personal victory in her own battle with weight. While serving in the military, she began to struggle with weight after the birth of her two children. She gained 85 pounds with her first child, which she lost with the help of a Health and Wellness Center at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana. She left the military and didn’t have support to lose the 65 pounds she gained after becoming pregnant with her second child.
“I had to lose the weight on my own, alone,” she said. “I used a combination of what I could remember from losing the weight the first time along with what I believed would work for me. I began eating right and moving! I lost a total of 130 pounds and have kept it off for over nine years now.”
Ward is currently applying for a doctorate program and plans to research the importance of family unity concerning weight loss.  
“At Fit Families, we focus on the entire family as a whole, utilizing the family members as a support system. We also educate on both physical fitness and proper nutrition,” she said. “A lot of people can’t afford to have a private trainer. I figured if I did a nonprofit, I could reach more people in more of a group setting.”
In order to reach more families, Ward is hosting the first annual Family Fit Day at the Park.
The event will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at J.F. Gregory Park. Activities will include a one-mile walk, family kickball, hula-hoop and jump-rope competitions between parents and kids, along with fitness-Simon-says, yoga and dancing.
DJ Chris DaGreek will provide music. There will be a raffle and silent auction. All proceeds will support health and wellness events in the community.

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