Former Honorary Mayor Jake Steinfeld Travels Across the Country to Gift DON’T QUIT! Fitness Centers
By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
These two words, in addition to being the title of one of his many books, embody the work that former Honorary Mayor Jake Steinfeld continues to do—in Pacific Palisades and across the country.
Steinfeld, the fitness pioneer behind Body by Jake and the creator of the personal fitness training industry, founder of Major League Lacrosse and the World Series of Youth Lacrosse, husband to Tracey, father of four, and 25-year-plus resident of the Palisades, is spreading his love of fitness to elementary and middle school students, one DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center at a time.
Before serving as honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades, Steinfeld was asked to serve as chair of the California Governors’ Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This got Steinfeld thinking, remembering what it was like growing up as an overweight kid with a really bad stutter. He remembered President Kennedy’s Fitness Challenge, which, in order to earn that 100 percentile patch, participants had to do pull ups, push-ups, rope climbs, etc.
“For an overweight kid, it was pretty demoralizing,” Steinfeld remembered. “I never got the patch and it was a tough thing.”
When he started in the fitness world, Steinfeld said to himself that one day, he would give every kid who never “got the patch” an opportunity to earn one.
“Because it’s like everything else,” Steinfeld said, “the patch is a sense of accomplishment.”
Steinfeld, with Schwarzenegger’s support, created the Governor’s Fitness Challenge, which got kids active for 30 to 60 minutes every other day for a month—doing any activity from jumping rope to walking to school or hula hooping.
Each participant that finished the challenge got a certificate of completion, signed by Schwarzenegger and Steinfeld.
“In 2006, we had 10,000 kids participate,” Steinfeld shared. “In 2011, 1.4 million California kids took our fitness challenge.”
Wanting to do more, Steinfeld then created the Spotlight Awards, designed to honor the “unsung heroes of the state.”
“We live in Hollywood—I wanted to create the Academy Awards for health, fitness, nutrition and good deedsmanship,” Steinfeld said.
After acquiring sponsors, Steinfeld and Schwarzenegger handed out seven gold medal awards and $10,000 checks in categories like School of the Year, Parks Program of the Year, Nonprofit of the Year and Business of the Year, to name a few.
The ultimate prize was a brand new DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center, valued at $100,000.
“I go to places where nobody goes.” Steinfeld shared. “There are great people in this town, in this state, in this country who never get a spotlight shined on them. Teachers, kids and parents are doing great things. They do so much with so little, it’s so inspiring, so unbelievable and so amazing to see—it invigorates me to continue to do what I do every day.”
After continuing this work with Schwarzenegger and then-Governor Jerry Brown in California, Steinfeld had an opportunity to expand his vision nationwide: He was asked to take the lead as chairman of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils (NFGFC).
“We have a single mission in mind: to put as many fitness centers in elementary and middle schools in this great country of ours,” Steinfeld said.
The NFGFC program is funded through public-private partnerships with companies Coca Cola, Anthem, Nike, TuffStuff Equipment and Wheels Up, and does not rely on taxpayer dollars or state funding.
Each year, Steinfeld and his team choose four states. Steinfeld reaches out to each governor personally offering the gift of three brand new $100,000 DON’T QUIT! Fitness Centers—no strings attached.
“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue,” Steinfeld said of the work, “it’s a kids’ issue.”
The first step is a joint press release from Steinfeld and the governor, encouraging schools throughout the selected state to tell them why their elementary or middle school deserves a DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center.
Then, when the three schools in each state have been selected, TuffStuff International, based in Chino, California, goes into a designated space at the school to install the DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center.
The final part is a presentation in front of the entire student body and community by Steinfeld and their governor.
This year, Steinfeld dedicated 12 brand new, state-of-the-art DON’T QUIT! Fitness Centers—three in each state—to Rhode Island, Missouri, Minnesota and Michigan.
“It’s a pep rally,” Steinfeld shared. “I do my little speech: ‘Everybody get on your feet, get your hands clapping—the more you clap, the more calories you burn.’”
In the speech, he reminds students that life is about moments—that one day, 20 years from now, someone in the room will be standing in front of a group of people, giving a speech about this moment and giving back to the community.
He also encourages students to take shots, like the teacher that applied for the fitness center believed in the school and they took a shot—whether it would work out or not.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Steinfeld shared, “to give the gift of hope through fitness. It’s just awesome! This DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center is a gift that really starts to give when we leave. You see we’re not just building bodies, we’re building confidence and self-esteem. Academics and fitness go hand in hand.
“We’ve seen test scores go up, gang violence down, teen pregnancy down, opioid use down. It’s an upward spiral of success,” Steinfeld explained.
Steinfeld requests that each school opens the DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center before and after school and on the weekends, not just for the kids and teachers but also for the moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles. Allowing the DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center to become the hub of the community.
This is the eighth year that Steinfeld has been at the helm of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, having dedicated sites in 32 states with the goal of putting DON’T QUIT! Fitness Centers in all 50 states.
As Jake always quotes, “Stick to the fight when hardest hit, it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit!
“DON’T QUIT! on you and DON’T QUIT! on the Pacific Palisades!”