PHOTOS: Missisquoi Valley Union cuts ribbon on new fitness center; Governor Scott and Jake Steinfeld talk about the importance of exercise

SWANTON Looking to change from I can’t to I can, Jake Steinfeld exploded in front of the Thunderbirds crowd early Thursday morning.

Because this is what happens when you start exercising. You’ll think to yourself: If I can do this, what else can I do?

Steinfeld had students, teachers, administrators and Governor Phil Scott excited about fitness and its own potential during the unveiling of the new $100,000 fitness center at the Middle School and Missisquoi Valley Union High School.

MVU was one of three schools in Vermont on Thursday to receive a fitness center from the National Endowment for Governors Fitness Council.

Principal Dan Palmer, physical education teacher Tessa Massett and athletic director John Lumsden applied to the center last winter, and MVU was selected from a group of 68 other applicants. Milton High School and Essex High School also won fitness centers.

In 2006, Steinfeld cooperated with then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to establish this fund. Since then, Steinfeld has worked with 46 other governors across the country to provide fitness centers to deserving schools.

This is a gift, Steinfeld said. And the best part is that it will actually start taking effect after we leave.

The fitness centers include weight machines, spin bikes, etc. and are funded by public-private partnerships and donations from companies including Coca-Cola and Nike.

MVU fitness ambassadors try out new equipment after the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Capturing the audience with his loud voice and high energy, Steinfeld told the students gathered at MVU’s performance center that when he was their age, he was an overweight kid and had a stutter.

“I lacked confidence and self-esteem,” he said. But then one day, when I was 13, my dad bought me a set of dumbbells and they changed my life.

Those weights not only trained his body but also built his confidence. He says being active has benefits that go beyond the physical. Exercise can strengthen your immune system, boost your mental health, and improve your performance in school.

Governor Scott, who came to help cut the ribbon on the new fitness center, agreed.

I am a cyclist and [riding my bike] is something I really enjoy doing,” he said. Staying active is how I balance the responsibilities and stress of being governor. It gives me a chance to clear my head and think about the challenges ahead and how to face them. Some of my best ideas come when I’m exercising.

Steinfeld says exercise increases levels of endorphins, or chemical signals that help reduce pain and create positive feelings. He encouraged students to exercise when they feel depressed, because a smile will definitely appear on their lips.

And when you feel comfortable, you can achieve your dreams, whatever they are, Steinfeld says.

We need more smiles, especially now. The world is crazy, he said. We need everyone working together to achieve our dreams. So don’t give up.

Rep. Matt Walker (R-Swanton) said Thursday’s launch made him doubly excited, as both a state representative and MVU men’s basketball coach. He wants his players to take advantage of the space during practice.

Steinfeld told school administrators that he hopes they will consider opening the fitness center before and after school so that as many students as possible can access the space. He wants it to become a community center that families and community members can even use.

Before the celebration ended on Thursday, Steinfeld and Governor Scott gathered the entire school for a group photo. On the count of three, the Thunderbirds point at the camera and scream Don’t give up!

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