President, first lady hope to get Americans exercising next week

Thursday, June 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Under the slogan ``Walk, run or sprint,'' President Bush will race hundreds of White House aides next week and give hikers a free weekend pass into national parks _ all in hopes of rousting America's couch potatoes to exercise.

With childhood obesity growing and nearly half of all American adults saying they never exercise, the president and first lady Laura Bush are planning four days of fitness activities _ on the White House lawn, at a nearby military post, and in Orlando, Fla. _ for next week.

A Thursday fitness fair on the South Lawn will offer an invited crowd of Washington schoolchildren and senior citizens free diabetes screening, nutritional advice and measurements of their blood-pressure, cholesterol and body mass index. Bush will introduce new members of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and outline a new initiative to promote regular exercise, healthy eating, disease screening and avoidance of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

The following day, the president will travel to Orlando to promote exercise programs for senior citizens. Next Saturday, he and Mrs. Bush will lead a race at Washington's Fort McNair before playing host to a Sunday game of T-ball in their backyard.

The Interior Department is dropping entrance fees at all national parks June 22-23 ``to encourage Americans to hike, walk or just visit our national treasures,'' said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

White House staffers were invited by e-mail to register for the Fort McNair race; within two hours, all 400 or so of the slots were filled.

The highly competitive Bush, who runs at least three miles each day and has been known to chastise Secret Service agents who edge ahead of him, will ``LEAD runners in a three-mile run,'' organizers emphasized with a wink.

``Everyone is free to run at the pace they choose, but clearly the president is going to keep score,'' said deputy White House communications director Jim Wilkinson. ``We expect the president to win the president's division.''

Mrs. Bush, who regularly works out with a personal trainer in the White House residence, will lead walkers in a 1.5-mile walk around Fort McNair.

All participants will wear a navy blue T-shirt, personally approved by the president, that bears the words, ``Walk, run or sprint.''

Wilkinson said it derives from Bush's message that ``every little bit of exercise counts and if you do nothing now, you should walk; if you walk, you should run; if you run, you should sprint.''