GREENFIELD — Dressed in a viking hat, T-shirt and shorts, Devon Brown stood before two dozen elementary-age kids and held a handful of medals in the air.
The kids had to show some loud and proud enthusiasm if they wanted to claim their prize.
They had spent the past hour crawling under ropes, lugging heavy tires and climbing over walls as part of a Spartan Day event at Noah’s Ark Daycare in Greenfield.
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Brown has three sons at the center, and he also owns a gym that trains adults to compete in obstacle-style races known as Spartan events. He brought a pint-size event to the day care on Friday to give the kids something fun to do, in light of a restrictive summer.
Trips to the local swimming pool, bowling alley and movie theater are common summer rites of passage for kids at local day camps and day cares, but COVID concerns have canceled most field trips so far this summer.
Nicole Boyette, activities director at Noah’s Ark Daycare, was thrilled to have Brown set up a challenge course for the kids on the day care’s playground and parking lot.
The kids were excited too, as they moved from station to station experiencing new challenges.
Seven-year-old Jack McKee loved speed-crawling under a low-lying web of ropes, although he got a little scratched up in the process.
“I got scratched up because I had this in my pocket,” he said, pulling a Matchbox car from his pocket.
Despite a little sweat and a few abrasions, the kids seemed to love taking part in the obstacle course under sunny blue skies.
“It was very entertaining and good exercise. There’s a lot of cool stuff to do,” said John Beckridge, age 8.
“I like all of it,” said Ethan Swift, age 10.
To get the kids pumped up before hitting the course, Brown tells them the story of the Spartans of ancient Greece, a group of 300 who famously stood their ground against more than 100,000 Persian soldiers.
It’s the story that has inspired Spartan fitness races and obstacle events for adults throughout the world, said Brown, a personal trainer who also owns Change Fitness in Greensburg, a gym where clients can learn to maximize their time on Spartan-type events.
He was thrilled to be asked back to bring an obstacle course to Noah’s Ark Daycare, which has offered the event the past few years.
The day care’s neighbor, Stillinger Family Funeral Home, sponsors the event, which includes medals and T-shirts for participants.
“This is a great way to keep the kids active, and a great way to support our neighbors,” said Jeannine Gray, family services coordinator at the funeral home.
As a father of three young boys, Brown knows first-hand the importance of helping kids expend their energy, especially during these unprecedented times.
Brown typically participates in Spartan events on the weekends, but most have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus this year.
Sometimes he competes in the events on his own, and sometimes he participates alongside his personal training clients.
He does about 15 to 20 races a year, and has recently started training for Iron Man events.
“I take a lot of people through their very first one,” said Brown, who will run races alongside his clients and sometimes run a course before they do, to report back on the best methods for successfully navigating the course.
“We always guarantee we’ll do everything we can to get to them across the finish line. I piggy back them to the finish line if I need to,” said Brown. “I once had to help a 400-pound man get over a 7-foot wall. It’s a big undertaking, but we built a human pyramid and we did it,” he recalled.
Working in the fitness industry where the focus can be results-driven, Brown wants to make sure his clients are having fun. He applied that same approach to creating the obstacle course for kids.
“A lot of our fitness opportunities outside athletics are pretty rigid, so I wanted the kid to look back and say we had a lot of fun, but at the same time we moved a lot,” he said. “If they’re tired tonight and go to bed earlier, that’s success for me.”