The former Canadian international has spent 10 years with the Esteem Team, a group that visits youth in school with a message of empowerment, inspiration and goal setting.
“It allows me to reach out to youth and give them access to information that I didn’t know at their age,” said Zakrzewski, who retired last season from competition, in an interview with the Toronto Observer.
“Knowledge is power, and the power of the Esteem Team is learning from inspirational athletes the power of setting and taking action on your goals,” she said.
The Esteem Team is Motivate Canada’s signature program that enlists world-class athletes from Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams to give interactive presentations to schools.
Zakrzewski and the Esteem Team staff are excited about the new Wellness Workshop program funded by the Ontario’s Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport, entering its second year.
A partnership between the Esteem Team, International Fun and Athletics Team (IFTA) and SoGo Active program, the Wellness Workshop program strives to get youth involved and active.
The program focus on youth aged between 13 and 19 attending elementary and middle schools.
“It consists of two visits per year at each participating school in the GTA region, and each partner has its own role,” said Megan Sutherland, Ontario manager at Motivate Canada.
The Esteem Team athletes educate the youth on nutrition and mental health, while the IFTA gets them active through the “Agility Challenge,” and record results at each visit, and Sogo Active provides the legacy component.
“Our goal is to have youth work together to create physical activity challenges or events within their school or community,” said Sutherland.
Sogo Active will support youth by providing them with micro grant opportunities to offset the costs of equipment, coaching/instructing, nutrition and transportation.
The Sir Samuel Steele Junior Public School accepted the challenge in February by creating a girls fitness club. That group grew from 10, to 50 students in only a few weeks, meeting every Friday after school to workout.
“We hired an instructor to teach a zumba and yoga class, which were a big hit. The girls are now stopping me in the hall to ask what we are doing next,” said Sutherland, who is looking at expanding the club to twice a week.
“We are hoping to play tennis, beach volleyball, rollerblade, dance, and pilates in the next few weeks. I am requesting a second grant to help pay for the costs of this,” she said.
Benefits for life
Zakrzewski believes it is important to speak to youth, and she feels she is making a difference by being involved in the Wellness Workshop program.
“The kids are our future leaders, so the sooner they know how to affect change in a positive way, the more practice they will have when they take over the leadership of the world,” said Zakrzewski.
She thinks the nutrition and mental health education component combined with the physical activity along with grant money fill an important missing piece in the current education system.
“Combine that with the goal setting component of the Esteem Team, and you get a very powerful education tool that inspires and motivates kids,” she said.
But the best part for Zakrzewski is with the youth.
“I like seeing their faces when they get what I’m talking about and get excited about applying it. I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices,” she said.