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Teaching kids to be champions of their own lives

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When four-time Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs retired from track and field after 21 years, she saw a disturbing trend in her community: “I noticed that many kids couldn’t even do the most basic physical activities that we all grew up doing.” When others were just beginning to notice the growing childhood obesity epidemic, Clark Diggs did something about it.

Armed with a lifetime of lessons learned on the track, she began the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation in 2002. The foundation now reaches 10,000 kids a year, with a focus on fitness, health, wellness and academic achievement.

“We teach kids to be the champions of their own lives. We let them know that they can do this. They can set goals, work hard and achieve them. Sports can help them develop the skillsets needed for that to happen,” said the Olympian.

Across the nation, African American coaches and athletes like Clark Diggs are helping to create healthier communities by working with at-risk youth. Whether they are providing free and low-cost gymnastics to children in New York City, giving opportunities to kids with disabilities, or training teens to be coaches and mentors themselves through football, they are changing the mindset and the lives of at-risk youth. And by helping children be mentally and physically healthy, these outstanding individuals are inspiring positive changes in their communities.

Aetna has captured the stories of 13 of these leaders in the 2015 Aetna African American History Calendar, available in print or online with video. Each month a new leader talks about how they are connecting at-risk youth to their personal passion for sports and the lessons they learned through sports.