Mayor Graham welcomes Van Etten and thanks him for speaking. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)
O’FALLON – At Friday’s session of FAST Camp, United States Marine veteran and O’Fallon native Corporal Chris Van Etten was the guest speaker. Fitness and Sports Training Camp takes place at Amelia Carriel Junior High and is the brainchild of Carriel Physical Education Teacher Tracy Lauderdale. PE teachers and coaches from around the area come to help train junior high students three days a week for a six week program. The first hour is spent on fitness training, and the second hour of the day is spent on training for whatever sport or activity the students have an interest in.
“A lot of kids these days don’t practice, they don’t train, they just play games. They certainly don’t get fitness training which makes them faster and stronger,” said Lauderdale.
Lauderdale brings in fitness professionals to help with the fitness training, but also brings in motivational guest speakers on Fridays. “I want to solidify a sense of community involvement, and we try to bring in O’Fallon residents or natives when we can.”
Van Etten is a 2009 graduate of O’Fallon Township High School. He enlisted in the US Marines shortly after graduating. In 2012, three months after he was deployed to Afghanistan, as he was returning from patrol, two IED’s went off and injuring Van Etten and a few others, and claiming the life of one. Van Etten ultimately lost both of his legs. Ultimately deciding that he wanted to embrace his new life, Van Etten became heavily involved in fitness, and even models for various companies and photographers like Michael Stokes.
O’Fallon native Chris Van Etten speaks to junior high students about the importance of fitness.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)
“I wanted to show people that I’m the same Chris. I wanted to stay fit and do things that people say that I can’t do. I work out, I play sports, I ride a motorcycle,” Van Etten said. “It’s so easy to get sidetracked with technology and sit in front of your TV or computer. I’m guilty of it, too. I like to play video games and binge watch Netflix, but you have to realize that if you don’t keep active and consciously make an effort everyday to make your life better, your body is going to deteriorate. You guys are here making an effort, and I admire that.”
Currently residing in San Deigo, Van Etten says he’s more active now than he ever was, and says “There are hard days, and I rest on those days and tell myself that it could be worse, but if I let myself slack, it’s harder to walk.” He uses multiple different prosthetics so that he can participate in all the activities he wants to.
Looking at fitness, Van Etten says he sees people get intimidated and give up. “Take baby steps. If something doesn’t work for you, alter it, or try something else,” something he has had to do for himself as he finds what activities and workouts he’s capable of doing. Wanting people to strive to make themselves better, he said “I don’t want people to look at me and feel sorry for me, I want them to look at me and be inspired.” Thousands of people follow Van Etten on social media, something he says is “amazing. I’m just a guy doing what I love, and for those people to support me is just humbling.”
Van Etten’s family lives in O’Fallon, and his two younger brothers, Cameron and Clint, both play lacrosse at OTHS. Van Etten is proud of their efforts to be fit and active and said the camp was a great concept for kids to encourage them to stay active and come together for a common goal without using social media as their only form of interaction.
Speaking before Van Etten was Fulton Junior High PE teacher Tony Hanson, who’s a United States Air Force veteran that was deployed four times. Hanson said the FAST program has “a tremendous impact on these kids. Most of them go home for the summer and become inactive. This keeps them moving.” A lot of the participating students are on sports teams, but Hanson says “Being in the camp doesn’t mean you’re on a team. You still have to work for it and tryout like everyone else.”
Chris Van Etten and Fulton PE teacher Tony Hanson.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)
Hanson and Lauderdale both proudly discussed the triathlon that is the culmination of camp. “We hold it at Community Park, and they do a 500 yard swim, a two mile run, and they bike three miles. The whole thing takes about an hour, and it’s neat for them to experience. I’ve had former students come back to help with that, and teach at camp, and say they wished we had been running this program when they went through school, because it would have given them such a solid groundwork for their future fitness and sports goals,” said Lauderdale.
Junior high students can register next year for FAST Camp, which keeps it’s numbers low to allow students a good ratio when working with coaches and teachers. For more on Van Etten and his goal to inspire others to be healthy, he has a public figure page on Facebook and has Twitter and Instagram accounts.