Malia Elzinga puffed and panted after several rounds of jumping rope. But the exertion was well worth it to the North Park Montessori third-grader.
You see, she wasn’t jumping just for exercise. She was raising money for the American Heart Association, as part of the AHA’s annual “Jump Rope for Heart” fundraiser. After a week of jump-roping and taking donations from relatives, she’d collected $500 – the top haul of anyone in her school.
“I told them I’m raising money for my school for people who have heart problems,” said Malia, who clearly enjoyed the effort. “I have, like, five pairs of jump ropes at my house. I love it.”
Doing her part nearby was Scarlet Lee, also working up a sweat in Kellie Kieren’s PE class. Explained Scarlet, “We want to make sure everybody has a healthy heart, just like us.”
So does their teacher, in a big way.
This was Kieren’s third Jump Rope for Heart campaign with her first- through eighth-grade students at North Park. It’s a cause for which she has willingly taught in a pink princess dress for a week, and allowed students to duct-tape her to the wall and throw pies in her face.
Why the hijinks? Kieren’s father died of heart disease at age 52, after losing his veterinary practice to a stroke nine years earlier. Four of his six siblings died young of the same ailment, known as cardiomyopathy.
Heart Hits Home
It’s not hard to see why Kieren has raised more than $16,000 for the AHA, including more than $4,000 in this year’s friendly competition. There was a sledding party in it for the top fundraising class.
“I thought I can just continue giving back to the American Heart Association for the rest of my career,” Kieren said. “Heart disease is so prevalent, that it affects almost everyone in one way or another. Jump Rope for Heart is such an easy thing to do to at least raise awareness.”
She does some heavy-duty jump-roping herself, gamely showing her gym students how to do the “criss-cross” maneuver. She and Tanya Chanter, mother of students Sarah and Steven, are North Park coaches for the upcoming JumpJam, a Spectrum Health-sponsored competition among Grand Rapids and Godfrey-Lee public schools students.
Even for those students who didn’t raise money, jumping rope is a healthy and happy experience, she said.
“I like to see the looks on their faces. They all leave with bright red faces, sweaty and smiling.”