Taking on Childhood Obesity
September 3, 2010
By Notah Begay III, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
VERONA, N.Y.—Earlier this week, some of the top golfers from both the PGA TOUR and LPGA took to the Atunyote Golf Club at Turning Stone Resort and Casino for the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge, an event my foundation began hosting in 2008. The third annual Challenge brought 12 pros together to raise money and awareness in the ongoing battle against obesity and diabetes in native communities, especially among Native American youth.
A cloudless sky welcomed fans from across the country to watch greats Vijay Singh, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam play alongside some of the top rising stars of the game—Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Morgan Pressel and Cristie Kerr. The action on the course didn’t disappoint, and Mahan and Kerr wound up stealing the show as the pair birdied the final three holes to capture the title.
More importantly, though, the support of these professionals and the 4,000 fans in attendance provided invaluable assistance to my foundation.
As the only full-blooded Native American golfer on the PGA TOUR, I am in a unique position of influence, one that I’ve tried to maximize as a vehicle for change in native communities across the country. I began my foundation in 2005 as a way to address some serious threats to Native Americans, namely the alarming rates of obesity and diabetes.
The childhood obesity epidemic is something the entire nation faces—but it is an alarming problem for Native Americans, where one in every three children between ages 2 and 19 is overweight, with more than 30 percent of all children on the youngest end of this spectrum (ages 2-5) fitting this description. Studies consistently indicate that obesity rates in Native American children, adolescents and adults are higher than the respective rates for all other U.S. races combined.
Developing realistic and sustainable methods for addressing these issues in ways that could initiate real changes in the lives of Native American youth has always been the primary mission of my foundation. The cornerstones of our strategy, our soccer and golf programs, have been successful in not only encouraging Native American kids to live more active lifestyles but also empowers them through emphasis on leadership and general wellness. One of the keys to our success has been the involvement of the Native American communities, which partner with my foundation to develop these programs to make them sustainable and culturally relevant. Just this year, close to 1,000 Native American youth benefited from our sports programs. Each of them will be more likely to live healthier lives and encourage those around them to do the same.
Though we have been quite successful to this point, the need to continue engaging more young people and expanding our programming is something I feel quite strongly about. While many are benefitting from the foundation’s work, there are many more we would like to be helping.
The biggest tool the foundation has to continue its mission is the Challenge. Since its inception, the event has annually become the largest fundraiser for both the Notah Begay III Foundation and all of Indian Country. It’s a great example of Native American communities coming together as a strong and ever-growing partnership. The Oneida Indian Nation hosts the event, and the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians makes this tournament possible each year. The importance of the Challenge is virtually immeasurable, as it provides substantial funding to continue our programming across the nation.
The perfect example of this is the new soccer field and community park that opened last week in New Mexico. The facility is the first of its kind for the San Felipe Pueblo. Its artificial-turf field hosts the San Felipe Soccer Club, which is an extension of the foundation’s youth soccer program. Its walking paths and open spaces provide opportunities for members of the community to stay active and healthy. The largest contribution to this state-of-the-art facility came from a $535,000 grant awarded to the San Felipe Pueblo by the foundation, using proceeds from the 2009 Challenge. This new park shows the real change that can happen in communities through the work of the foundation and how the Challenge is a major component toward taking dreams and making them realities.
The success of the Challenge is dependent on two groups I’m infinitely indebted to: the professional golfers who participate each year, and the fans who fill the grandstands at the Challenge. Their incredible willingness to help me champion this cause has been amazing.
During these past three years, we’ve had some of the game’s biggest names and brightest stars walk the fairways of Atunyote. Some have gone above and beyond simply playing in the Challenge, with Mike Weir, Stewart Cink and Vijay donating money out of their own pockets to help build the facility for the San Felipe Pueblo. The time and money these golfers and our fans have shared is making a real difference in Native American communities.
The issues facing Native American youth are daunting, but it’s through their assistance that we’re able to do our part to change the future.
Notah Begay III, a Native American who is one-half Navajo and one-quarter San Felipe and one-quarter Isleta, is a four-time PGA TOUR winner.
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