Valley cities, schools nearly sweep state fitness competition

Children run under the banner at the start of the last mile of the McAllen Kids Marathon Saturday, January 20, 2018, at the McAllen Convention Center.

HARLINGEN — Turnout, commitment and desire have put the Rio Grande Valley in an unusual spot — healthiest place in the state.

At least if one goes by the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge, which has recorded the entries, collated all the data, and now has released the results — Valley citizens have walked, run and toiled their way to seven of the 10 first-place awards in the state.

Municipal winners are McAllen (large cities), Harlingen (medium cities) and Los Fresnos (small cities).

School district winners are Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (large districts), Harlingen CISD (mid-sized), Los Fresnos CISD (small) and Point Isabel ISD (extra small).

Elsewhere in the state, Austin won among large metro areas and Smithville won among extra small cities. North East ISD in San Antonio won large metro school districts.

The It’s Time Texas Community Challenge is an eight-week, points-driven contest using workout selfies, healthy meals and weight and fitness trackers, hosted community events and, for schools and businesses, organizing healthy activities and devising ways to make workplaces more healthy as well.

This year’s contest began Jan. 7 and ended Sunday.

Other Valley winners

Last year, the city of Harlingen also won first place in its category, an improvement from second spot in 2017.

For Harlingen CISD, where students, teachers and staff are presently enjoying Spring Break, it was the third straight first-place finish in the challenge in the district’s category.

Like Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling has taken an active leadership role in motivating his constituents to hit the streets, tracks and trails in the IT Texas Challenge.

“McAllen beat all other cities in the state; it was truly a team effort. We really want to change the perception about McAllen, and the Rio Grande Valley as a whole, as an unhealthy, unfit, inactive community,” said Xochitl Mora, the city’s director of the office of communications.

“With over 34 miles of hike-and-bike trails in the City of McAllen alone, and exercise equipment at several of our city and school parks, it doesn’t have to cost anything other than commitment to get healthy and fit in McAllen,” Mora added.

Here of all places

The effort made in the Valley has been nothing short of phenomenal. Statewide almost half of the entrants who signed up for the challenge — 48 percent — were from the Rio Grande Valley.

About half of the mayors in the region — 21 in all, and doubled from a year ago — took up the workout call to lead their communities.

“I always said we’re not known for health and wellness but you can just see it among all our communities — more and more people are exercising, more and more people are taking care of themselves,” said Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, who has himself been a vocal and active advocate for the IT Texas Challenge.

“Something like this was just a great way to engage a community,” he added. “What I really loved about this challenge is it really does start with a commitment from the chief elected officials, the mayors are key to this. … They’ve become the examples for really exercising and getting out in the community.”

War on obesity, diabetes

The challenge runs in conjunction with statewide Walk with the Mayor events. The program involves a city against city competition to encourage Texas residents to exercise in hopes of reversing some of the state’s high obesity and diabetes rates.

Some estimates consider almost one-half of the Valley’s population, 45 percent, as obese, with another 40 to 60 percent with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

“A lot of people thought this was a competition of just the Valley cities,” Garza said. “They didn’t realize that we were competing against the state and doing so well.

“The list came out today and I talked to some mayors who didn’t win who are even more motivated to see what we can do next year,” he added. “Think about that. This is truly a great way to a healthy competition. The end result of this is more people doing better for themselves, health-wise.”

It’s Time Texas Challenge 2019

City winners:

Austin — Metro

McAllen — Large

Harlingen — Mid-sized

Los Fresnos — Small

Smithville — Extra small

School district winners:

North East ISD (San Antonio) — Metro

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD — Large

Harlingen CISD — Mid-sized

Los Fresnos CISD — Small

Point Isabel ISD — Extra small