A Journey to Lifelong Health and Fitness
By Scott Daniels
Teenagers who earn Venturing's Quest Award can improve their diet and nutrition, develop teaching skills, and discover a sport they can play for the rest of their lives.
At Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., several crews of Venturers are playing softball, zigzagging through obstacle courses, teaching Boy Scouts backswings in tennis, and even playing golf on the manicured Magnolia course at the Walt Disney World Resort.
At the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colo., more Venturers spread out across the U.S. Olympic Training Center to learn facts about diet and nutrition, swim in the same pool as Olympic champions, play a sport for visually impaired athletes called goal ball, and participate in a fencing clinic.
These teens know the importance of an active lifestyle. Many of them are completing requirements for the Quest Award, the Venturing sports and fitness medal for young people age 14 through 20. The award's introduction in 2003 was to address a critical concern among many health professionalsthe fitness of today's youth. (See sidebar).
"We're starting to see young people with old people diseases," said David Wilson, an Orem, Utah, Venturing Advisor. "These diseases include hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, and diabetes."
Donna Cunningham of Amarillo, Tex., another Venturing volunteer, agreed. She said Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, frequently referred to as the "father of aerobic exercise," is quite blunt in his assessment. Dr. Cooper has said that the rise in childhood obesity and decline in children's healthy eating habits and physical activity could mean "that this may be the first generation in which the parents outlive the children."
"That is a horrible, shocking statement," Cunningham said.
Neither easy nor quick to earn
Both Wilson and Cunningham helped write the Quest Handbook (BSA No. 33151) and say earning the award is neither easy nor quick. But it can be accomplished. A Venturer must complete a set of five core requirements, which includes earning the Sports Bronze Award, and then focus on one of five electives. (See more about requirements.)
"The requirements may seem a bit daunting," Wilson said. "It's intentional. It will take a Venturer some time to earn, and it will stretch him or her. There's no question it will cause them to come out of their comfort zone, but we did that on purpose. We want them to be challenged."
Venturers, however, should not assume the Quest Award is only for athletes on varsity sports teams or members of select sports clubs.
"This isn't a jock award," said Keith Walton, an associate director of the BSA's Venturing Division. "Venturers will see when they examine the requirements and electives that this award is going to benefit them in both the short and long term."
Venturing worked closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee to identify sports that teens might not usually consider, individual and nontraditional sports that a person doesn't have to start at age 2 to become an exceptional athlete.
"An Olympic gymnast may have started instruction as a preschooler, but there are other sports, such as shooting, where a 17-year-old young woman recently became a champion after just two years of competition. It turned out she was a natural," David Wilson said.
Fencing, golf, sailing, and scuba are some of the sports Cunningham said teens could try in order to improve fitness and coordination.
"America is loaded with athletic clubs and kids who play football and who are constantly active in sports," said Cunningham. "Those aren't necessarily the kids the Quest program wants to go after. It's the kids that are sitting on the sofa.
"The great thing about earning the Quest Award," Cunningham added, "is that young people can try out a nontraditional sport and have a shot at becoming an elite athlete or use it as a recreational sport for the rest of their life."
The Quest Handbook lists more than 40 sportssomething for almost everyonefrom BMX cycling and in-line speed skating to darts, disc sports, curling, and orienteering. Also included are roller figure skating, badminton, snowboarding, and dance. For most sports, the handbook provides addresses for the activity's national governing body, Web sites, and literature resources.
Two Venturers' stories
Marcus Depaolo of Venturing Crew 312 in Deltona, Fla., recently earned the Quest Award. The 17-year-old senior plays football and is on his high school wrestling team. Marcus's father is the Crew 312 Advisor and presented the Quest Award as a program opportunity for the Venturers.
"I earned it in about eight months," Marcus said. Marcus already had the Sports Bronze Award, and that knocked off a considerable amount of time in completing the Quest Award. He said if someone started from scratch, it would probably take about a year to finish the requirements.
A key component of the Quest Award is teaching others about a sport through a skills clinic to a Cub Scout pack or den, Boy Scout troop, or another youth group. Marcus said this was the hardest requirement for him to tackle. He finally chose a peewee football summer camp for 8-year-olds.
"I taught them position skills and techniques, such as how to come off a three-point stance on the offensive line and how to stay low and go make a block. I was surprised. They picked up stuff pretty fast," he said.
Kaila Adam is a member of Venturing Crew 6 in Orlando. She is a 15-year-old sophomore and participates on a competitive dance team. She earned the Quest Award after finding out about it from an e-mail sent out by the Central Florida Council. Since her father is a Scoutmaster, she had a ready-made group of young people for whom to organize some soccer competitions and to talk to about nutrition, sports first aid, and the consequences of using drugs and alcohol.
There are five other members of Kaila's crew working on the Quest Award, and she's encouraging their efforts.
"Exercise is important to staying healthy. It feels better to be fit," Kaila says. Although she exercises through competitive dance, she believes there are plenty of other activities Venturers can pursue to earn the award.
Drug-free sports education
Another Venturing partner for the Quest Award is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The agency's education director, Karen Casey, helped develop the elective on drug-free sports.
"We wanted Venturers to analyze why people might cheat in sports through taking performance-enhancing drugs. Doping really destroys the integrity of sports. And there are so many potential side effects for anabolic steroid use among both females and males."
Casey said the recent attention focused on steroid use in professional baseball and in some high school sports programs has certainly raised the public's awareness of the problem.
"We have kids in high school who are seeking anabolic agents to get a buff body. Our youth programming is helping kids to develop or reinforce their self-esteem and ethical decision-making skills so they can be good consumers and not be so seduced by external messages.
"We also need to look at some of the other products that are being marketed to our kids, such as energy supplements and energy drinks," Casey added. "Kids and adults alike are so easily persuaded into taking something to help them feel less fatigued or as a quick fix. There's a multitude of ingredients in these products that I think better-educated consumers should be questioning as to whether or not they want to put them into their bodies."
The long-term benefits
David Wilson sees the Quest Award breaking down into three parts:
"First, I hope our youth will become determined to be physically fit throughout life, so that when they talk about sports, it's [about] having fun. It's not a drudgery.
"Next is nutrition. You don't have to be bulked up to be physically fit. With a sport for life for fun, you can manage a nutritionally healthy diet that includes a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
"Finally, is the ability to teach. I want Venturers to lose the fear of teaching others, so when they go to college, they can help others. When they become parents they can teach their children to grow in a fit and healthy lifestyle that allows them to live longer and more enjoyable lives."
Donna Cunningham sums up her belief in the Quest program: "This is the answer to the obesity problem in children. If the BSA and Venturing really zone in on this award, it could eliminate youth obesity in the United States. That's how good a program it is."
Scott Daniels is the executive editor of Scouting magazine. His last article was the November-December 2005 cover story about the 2005 National Scout Jamboree.
Copyright © 2006 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.