These eighth grade students at St. Ann’s Catholic School in downtown West Palm Beach are used to gym class, but this particular instructor leading them through a routine of calisthenics is new - not completely new, since they’ve seen him pretty much every day since the fourth grade.
The difference is that, usually, he’s doing the exercises right next to them.
“There are a lot of kids who are not moving, who play a lot of video games,” says Joshua Timmer, a 14-year-old from West Palm on a quest to make Palm Beach County, or at least his corner of it, a lot healthier, one leg circle at a time.
The Tae Kwon Do black belt and basketball player has created these workouts, as well as an exercise video, to encourage kids to move physically - and have fun - as part of Palm Healthcare Foundation Inc.’s Let Move initiative. He’s also encouraged his fellow students to sign up for Let’s Move.
“I wanted to get kids moving, and then maybe their whole family will,” Joshua explains.
The project, created nationally by then-First Lady Michelle Obama as a way to decrease childhood obesity, runs in Palm Beach County through the month of March. Last year, county residents logged more than 10 million minutes of physical activity during the challenge.
“He’s doing something that helps kids play sports and exercise,” explains Aidan Timmins, 13, a classmate and temporary student of Joshua’s. The video, in which Joshua wears his white Tae Kwon Do dobok while giving a self-choreographed routine in front of the family pool, has more than 700 views, and Joshua himself ranks among the top participants in minutes logged for far.
“I start out with some stretching, and then some little kicks and punches,” explained Joshua, who says that he’s gotten good feedback on the project’s Facebook page, like “‘Great job! You guys got me moving.’”
He says he also learned what exercise video veterans have known for years - how hard it is to move and talk at the same time, which is why “we did it four times,” says Joshua, whose brother Brandon, 19, a freshman pre-med major at Palm Beach Atlantic University, acted as his cameraman.
Health is a family affair for the Timmers, who have three kids, Brandon, oldest sister Christine, 23, and Joshua, who wants to be a surgeon one day. Parents Gary and Fontaine, both nurses, run group homes for developmentally disabled people called Emerald Manor, in both Palm Beach and Broward County.
His mother, who is also on staff with Palm Beach Atlantic University, says that her son “has always cared about people,” sometimes talking to and interacting with the patients at the group home. “He knows that prevention is important.”
The statistics support that. According to Palm Healthcare Foundation, 63 percent of all Floridians are overweight or obese, and six in ten children born today will be obese by the time they graduate from high school. Joshua’s zeal to help solve that problem is no surprise to the St. Ann’s staff.
“He’s one of those special kids,” says Jill Ingebritson, who was Joshua’s 4th grade teacher and has remained his mentor. “I’m not at all surprised that he became this caring young man. He was very quiet, and now he’s obviously gone outside the box and become a risk-taker.”
Dad Gary confirms that Joshua has always been “a self-starter,” and has a funny story that proves it. “When he was maybe 2 years old, we heard something dragging across the kitchen floor, and he was pushing a chair. He pulled the chair to the counter, got some oatmeal, got a bowl. I watched him push a minute on the microwave, wait until it was finished, then push the chair back and eat the oatmeal. That’s Joshua in a nutshell.”
The video and classes are also Joshua’s celebration project, a community service initiative that all 8th-graders at St. Ann’s must complete, says principal Susan Demes. Others have included raising money for a local autism walk, and volunteering at Big Dog Rescue Ranch. The overall goal, Demes says, was to find something they’re passionate about, and this “seemed at home for Joshua.”
Goals, in general, seem to be something Joshua is passionate about. He’s a member of the National Junior Honor Society and a student in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, a golfer and a former saxophone player in the school band. He even takes extra algebra classes after school three times a week “to get a higher level in math,” he says.
But under all that overachieving, his parents say, is just a kid who wants to make a difference and help other kids his age and, maybe, an entire generation.
“If I get them moving, it’s a success,” he says.