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Mayor races to promote healthier lifestyles in Phoenix area

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PHOENIX – Mayor Greg Stanton appeared far from Olympic form after running a 100-meter dash Wednesday against a gold medalist, but he’s healthier than he’s been in years.

Stanton lost 50 pounds in 2009 after spending his late 20s and 30s eating poorly and rarely exercising.

“My doctor told me I needed to make a change,” he said. “I developed a love-hate relationship with the treadmill at the YMCA.”

Trying to get Phoenix residents to follow his lead by exercising and eating better, Stanton used a friendly race against Olympic swimmer Misty Hyman and Councilman Daniel Valenzuela at Phoenix College to promote the FitPHX initiative.

Approved Tuesday by the City Council, FitPHX links and promotes physical fitness programs, recreation facilities and nutrition classes available in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

A FitPHX website will launch in the next month, and a marketing campaign featuring Hyman is already under way.

Hyman, who took the gold medal in the women’s 200-meter butterfly during the 2000 Summer Olympics, began swimming at Phoenix’s Roadrunner Park and Pool in the early ’80s.

“The city of Phoenix has given me so much and gotten me my start in swimming,” Hyman said. “Swimming here not only helped me to achieve my dream of winning an Olympic gold medal, it changed my life.”

She suffered from asthma as a 5-year-old, and a family physician suggested swimming as a way to strengthen her lungs. Hyman went from being unable to finish a race to striving for first every time she competed.

Hyman shared her story with a group of fourth- through sixth-grade students from Clarendon Elementary School who participated in stretches and exercises with the mayor.

Valenzuela, a firefighter, approached Stanton about the program after noticing that many of the emergencies he responded to were caused by unhealthy lifestyles.

“While I’ll continue to respond to those emergencies, my goal and the honorable thing to do is to prevent them,” Valenzuela said.

He said he was further inspired by a 2012 report from the American Fitness Index ranking the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area 26th out of the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas in community health.

The study commended Phoenix on its large areas of parkland and lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and diabetes but noted the area’s higher percentage of asthma and less stringent physical education requirements compared to other states.

“Our goal is to reach the top 10, but we’re not going to stop there,” Valenzuela said.