BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – A bunch of spectators watching a Sunday afternoon sporting event is not unusual. But if the game is table tennis, the crowd is made up of cheering kids, and the competing athletes are an Olympic table tennis player and a New Jersey Devil, well that’s a different sort of Sunday altogether.
The match-up between three-time U.S. Olympian and six-time U.S. Champion table tennis player David Zhuang, and Ken Daneyko, three-time Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils, was the exciting conclusion of the Summit Medical Group’s Live Well Sports and Health Festival, held Sunday afternoon on Summit Medical Group’s Berkeley Heights campus.
The event featured guest appearances by professional athletes like Daneyko and Zhuang; U.S. Olympic Biathlete Curt Schreiner; U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Medalist Joey Cheek; U.S. Olympic Fencers Keeth Smart and Ivan Lee; and U.S. Olympic Rowers Caryn Davies, Ali Cox, and Tim Young; and Kara Richardson Whitely, blogger and author of Fat Woman on the Mountain about her weight loss journey and ascension of Mount Kilimanjaro. The day also included lectures by some of New Jersey’s top sports doctors.
“Our motto here at Summit Medical Group is ‘Live Well, Stay Well,’ and that’s really what we’re emphasizing here today,” said Summit Medical Group CEO R. Robert Booth. “We want to promote a healthy lifestyle and eating habits. There are so many alternatives out there for healthy snacks, and for activities to enjoy. This organization is all about preventative care and keeping people out of the hospital.”
In the Eat Well pavilion, Spike Mendelsohn, from Bravo TV’s Top Chef; Randy Rabney of The Conscious Plate; Harvest Restaurant’s Executive Chef Bill Hendra and Chef de Cuisine Lauren Owens; a representatives of Whole Foods talked with festival attendees about healthy cooking, and provided samples of healthy, tasty snacks.
Mendelsohn demonstrated easy snack preparation, assisted in whipping up a raspberry and mint popsicle by Booth’s daughter, Rebecca. While they worked, Mendelsohn joked with audience members and answered questions about Top Chef.
“I really enjoy doing these kinds of events,” Mendelsohn told The Alternative Press. “I was lucky enough to have early success in my life, and I like to be able to reach out to kids and teach them about healthy eating. Food and cooking are such a powerful form of bonding, and kids like finding out that healthy eating can be fun and exciting.”
He added that celebrity chefs, who are the rock stars of the cooking world, are uniquely poised to affect the way kids think about eating.
“Cooking is entertainment, now more than it’s ever been,” he said.
Daneyko, wearing a Stanley Cup ring and sitting in front of a Devils' banner emblazoned with his name and jersey number, also said his celebrity status helps him get the message out to kids about the importance of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle.
“I have kids of my own,” he said. “I know it’s not always easy to convince them to get off the couch and step away from the video games, but if they see physical activity as something to enjoy, then it becomes a part of their lifestyle.”
Daneyko said he was active even as a kid, but he’s aware of the problems that an overweight child can have, from health issues as they grow through the emotional torment of being teased by other children.
A line of kids stood waiting to try out the rowing machines that the Olympic Rowing Team trains on. The athletes themselves watched and smiled as the kids realized just what a tough workout rowing is.
“I was always athletic as a kid, but I didn’t get into rowing until college,” said Olympic hopeful Ali Cox. “Other members of our team started younger, like Caryn (two-time medalist), who started when she was 12. It’s great for kids to get into sports as young as they want to, because the skills they learn will carry them through the rest of their lives, like teamwork, leadership, and goal setting.”
The festival offered kids exposure to activities and sports that aren’t quite as widespread, such as rowing, jump rope, fencing, badminton, foosball and rock climbing.
“One mother told me her daughter is totally into the idea of hockey now, and she never even touched a hockey stick before today,” said Maureen Bennett, Summit Medical Group spokesman.
Table tennis champ Zhuang said the sport was a major part of his growing-up years in China.
“Kids in China carry paddles around in their back pockets,” he said. “They’re always ready to play. It’s one of the best-known sports in the country.”
He said not many people realize what great exercise table tennis is, and how beneficial it is for kids.
“It’s good for cardio fitness, hand-eye coordination, and of course, focus,” Zhuang said. “I coach a lot of kids, and I’ve noticed that if they do well at table tennis, they do better in school.”
Daniel Guttman, from the New Jersey Table Tennis Club in Westfield, joked that table tennis is “One of the best known unknown sports in the country.”
Children were eager to try it out, and small plastic balls flew fast and furious through the air until Daneyko arrived for his match with Zhuang.
The spectators alternately laughed and cheered as the two athletes hit the ball back and forth.
“Thanks for giving me that one,” Daneyko called out after Zhuang missed a shot. They high-fived and laughed, demonstrating for the watching children the message of the entire festival: a healthy lifestyle can be a whole lot of fun.