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Gordie Howe, Slow Roll founders honored at Governor’s Fitness Awards

Michigan Fitness Foundation annual awards at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

Call it fashion of the fittest.

A peculiar stream of sartorial splendor filled Cobo Center recently as 500 guests and honorees of the 2016 Governor’s Fitness Awards made their way to a ballroom for the annual dinner. Sneakers were matched with suit coats and evening gowns hovered over high-tops as participants dressed for the theme of active lifestyles.

The event marked the 24th year the Governor’s Council of Physical Fitness, Health and Sports, and the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) have recognized individuals and organizations for encouraging initiatives that  make Michigan a healthier state and contribute to thriving communities.

A highlight was Detroit hockey legend Gordy Howe’s standing ovation as he was presented with the Vern Seefeldt Lifetime Achievement Award, for his work promoting healthy lifestyles and physical activity. The legendary Detroit Red Wings star was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 and has maintained an active lifestyle long after retirement.

Hockey great Gordie Howe receives his award

Hockey great Gordie Howe receives his award. L:R: L:R: Murray Howe, Gordie’s son; Gordie Howe; J.J. Tighe, MFF CEO, and Kirk T. Steudle, director Michigan Dept. of Transportation

MFF and the Governor’s Fitness Awards honor corporations, professionals and private citizens for a wide variety of achievements, from encouraging weight loss to increasing awareness of life-threatening conditions like prostate cancer and degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s Disease. The banquet featured engaging, filmed profiles of nominees.

“Now, more than ever, we all realize the integral role that nutrition and fitness play in our lives, and in the health of our communities, from the smallest rural enclave, to our largest urban cities, to the loved ones inside our homes,” said Nick Lyon, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director.

Drawing statewide leadership and participation across political, racial, religious, and community boundaries, the awards unify and inspire by showcasing those who defy the odds.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley drew laughter when he spoke of consistently winning leadership positions after first losing the ninth grade student council president’s election to “the girl I took to homecoming.” His tone became serious when he urged the audience to imagine themselves being defined and judged by others, based on their outward appearances.

“That’s what it’s like for people with disabilities,” Calley said, urging support for physically challenged Michigan residents.

Keynote speaker Mark Hollis, athletic director for Michigan State University, shared his experience of working with top college athletes and coaches, while strategizing to convince his son to step away from electronic gadgets and stretch his legs to exercise.

The Michigan Fitness Foundation’s mission is to encourage healthier choices through education, environmental change, community programming and policy leadership.

Its specific objectives and benchmarks include:

  • Partnering with the state and communities to provide nutrition education and physical education programs
  • Working to reduce the $12.5 billion in obesity-related Michigan medical costs projected by 2018 in Michigan
  • Helping shape Michigan youths’ path toward better health

“Personal choice and responsibility, when it comes to healthy choices, is critical, so education is very important,” James J. Tighe, MMF president and CEO, told TheHUB. “We’ve made a lot of progress around nutrition education, but knowing what we should do, versus what we actually do, doesn’t always align. We need to extend our focus to the environment, so it’s easier to make healthy choices and stay active.

“Many of our communities are built on convenience, not health, so thinking about how we design and improve our communities, as Michigan continues to rebound, is important.”

Tighe welcomed guests to the program, acknowledging a record number of award nominations submitted for 2016. A military veteran with an on-going commitment to fitness and personal wellness, he has been a leading advocate for increasing physical wellness and greater public access for all, particularly the disabled.

Among the evening’s other highlights was the presentation of the Extraordinary Event Award, a tie between Flint-based HealthPlus Crim Festival of Races and Detroit’s Slow Roll. Emphasizing camaraderie in culturally similar communities, both struggling against industrial decline and environmental challenges, the events symbolize unity. Known to locals as “the Crim,” the festival attracts thousands to participate in runs of various distances, while Slow Roll draws 3,000 Detroit bicyclists per week.

Combining tourism and fellowship with fitness, Slow Roll has inspired similar events in cities around the globe. The movement has been praised for its inclusiveness and for recasting the concept of community in one of Detroit’s largest, most peaceful ongoing events. Bike riders of all ages, including amputees and arthritics, have been known to participate.

Organizers of both events accepted the awards, speaking proudly of their cities.

“Come ride a bike in Detroit,” said Jason Hall, Slow Roll co-founder.

Hall pledged to support the Crim, along with other Slow Roll regulars.

Crim, participants say, is even more about self-empowerment than a race to the finish line.

“This award really is for the people of Flint,” said director Andy Younger, accepting on HealthPlus Crim’s behalf. “One thing we’ve always tried to maintain control over is our health and wellness. It helps us tell the world that Flint is strong.”

Here’s the list of awards and winners:

Healthy Workplace – For companies that promote environments contributing to employees feeling more fit and productive:

  • Lambert, Edwards and Associates Investor and Public Relations (for companies with a staff fewer than 50)
  • 44 North (for companies with a staff of 50-149)
  • WK Kellogg Foundation (for companies with a staff of 150-999)
  • Saint Joseph Mercy Systems (for companies with a staff of 1,000 or more)

Accepting the Challenge – Race enthusiast Michael Johnson, who continued competing after a motocross accident left him paralyzed from the waist down

Directors Champion of Health – Dr. Michael Lutz, partner at the Michigan Institute for Urology and advocate for men’s health 

Conquering Obesity – Savannah Dougherty, who lost 100 pounds and became a Beaumont Health Wellness Ambassador

Veteran of the Year – Travis Mills, retired Army staff sergeant, motivational speaker and advocate for military veterans and amputees

People’s Choice – Katy Stone, veteran outreach director for Team Red, White and Blue

John Dingell Outstanding Public Official – Mayor David Bing, who founded Bing Youth Institute to enhance lives of Detroit youth

Michigan Fitness Foundation annual awards at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

L:R Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, MFF President & CEO J.J. Tighe, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Dave Bing


Lifetime Achievement – Gordie Howe, retired Detroit Red Wings star, who exemplified fitness and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame 

Active Communities – 5 Healthy Towns Foundation for groundbreaking wellness plans in Chelsea, Dexter, Grass Lake, Manchester, and Stockbridge

Extraordinary Event – Slow Roll and HealthPlus Crim Festival of Races for assembling bicyclists for weekly rides in Detroit and hosting runs of various distances in Flint

– Photos: Paul Engstrom

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