About four months ago, at the invitation of my neighbor, my now eight-year-old took his first class at Lionhearts Fitness. I didn’t really understand what it was all about, but my neighbor had been inviting us for so long and I honestly ran out of excuses not to let him try it. Our schedule is packed full as it is and I was not interested in trying to add another class or expense into my life, but I told him he could try it ONE time. All it took was that one time and now Lionhearts has become a precious part of my family. I only wish we would have given it a try sooner!
Lionhearts Fitness is located right off the interstate next to Costco. (I know all of you mamas know where Costco is!) As soon as you enter the doors of the nearly 7,000 square foot building, you’re greeted by dozens of homemade posters with photos of kids with smiles beaming across their faces — evidence of the pride and fun they feel during their time there. There are three large rooms full of monkey bars, rock walls, and tunnels for the kids to play and practice on, all built by the community for the kids. My kids come home happy and exhausted at the end of every practice!
Lionhearts is a nonprofit organization run by Michele Littlejohn-Luccketta or “Coach Shell” as she is lovingly called by the kids. Lionhearts offers a variety of different events and camps, but the main focus is an Obstacle Course Racing class offered twice a week where children practice climbing the walls, running races, and swinging from ropes to condition themselves for Spartan races! This year, Lionhearts was the largest kids’ racing team in the country. Youth of all ages and abilities are welcome here.
“No one is left behind. No one is left out.”
The vision was born from the empowerment Shell felt after running her first Spartan race in 2017. Shell has been dealing with a terminal liver disease for years and had only been given months to live by her physician, so she fought to make the most of that time. A Spartan race was on her bucket list. Fortunately for all of us, she is beating the odds and her health is still holding steady.
Coach Shell is a truly remarkable woman. She’s warm and whimsical and always in the middle of organized chaos that comes with wrangling dozens of children at a time. Somehow, she is the perfect balance of fun and firm. After observing one class, it was easy to see how much the children respect her, and it was equally obvious that she respects them. I watched as she wrapped up class by giving praise and encouragement to kids who recently completed different races and the atmosphere was so positive. Finally, she asked the kids, “Who are we?” “Lionhearts!,” they responded. Then, “What do we do?” “We help people!,” the kids all replied in unison. My heart melted.
That motto isn’t just for a fuzzy feeling; a huge aspect of being a Lionheart is giving back to the community. Shell requires the kids to serve the community through group outreaches like river clean ups, food and blanket drives, and feeding the homeless.
Shell sets the example of service perfectly. She and her family are constantly giving of their time and resources to make this dream a reality. The kids who participate do it free of charge! The entire program is run solely on donations from the community and volunteers. All participants are able to donate freely to the program if they can, but no one is pressured or turned away for an inability to pay. This is truly a valuable resource for so many families.
The Luccketta family has big plans for the fitness program in 2020, including the implementation of an adaptive youth program for children with autism and other special needs called LionsROAR. I would love to see this program continue to grow and I hope there may be someone reading this who can connect to this vision and help take it to the next level!