One man inspires 250,000 kids to get active

One man inspires 250,000 kids to get active

Editor’s note: This post was updated on Nov. 6, 2019.

We hear lots of talk about the dangers of obesity and the need to get kids active. Doctors and research groups warn of a coming health crisis of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer for today’s generation of children. But what can we do about it?

Here’s a solution: bring 5,000 kids into Montreal’s Olympic Stadium for games, dinner, a rock concert, and a giant sleepover.

Sound amazing? Just watch. And try and keep a dry eye.

Big dreamer Pierre Lavoie has created le Grand défi Pierre Lavoie as a way to get kids, and their parents, active in a big way.

Le grand défi is French for “the big challenge.” It’s well-known in the province of Quebec, but few English Canadians have even heard of it.

Le Grand défi is a program, a campaign, and a contest that motivates kids to get active and eat healthy. It also enlists them to encourage their parents to join in. It’s so innovative, so creative, so effective, and so vast in scope that you have to wonder … how did anyone ever dream it up?

It starts on a sophisticated double-decker tour bus called the Véhicube. The bus is full of interactive educational video games and exercise bikes, and it tours more than 100 Quebec schools, admitting groups of 30 kids at a time to walk through and play interactive games that teach them about exercise and healthy diet.

Sounds boring, right? But it isn’t. Kids love it. And they really do learn.

After the bus has visited, schools are given the chance to sign up for the Get Up and Move program, the contest portion of le Grand défi. Schools register and receive information packages and instructions; the goal is to get students to complete symbolic “cubes” of physical activity each week.

In 2011, more than 240,000 kids participated.

One cube equals 15 minutes of daily physical activity. A kid who is active for 30 minutes in a day has earned two cubes for her school. Cubes can also be earned for eating healthy meals and completing 15-minute learning activities as part of the Sharpen Your Grey Matter contest.

Kids also get points for their school if they get close family members participating.  Get Mom to walk for 15 minutes? That’s another cube for your school. Convince Grandpa to run a marathon? A gazillion cubes for your school.

In 2011, Quebec kids collected 38 million cubes. The estimate for 2012 is over 50 million cubes. That represents 12.5 million hours of kids’ activity.

At the end of the school year, the schools that have earned the most cubes are entered into a draw to win the Grand Prize: a June trip to Olympic Stadium in Montreal where a few thousand kids play games, eat dinner together, watch a live rock concert, and have a giant sleepover. They also get the local Six Flags amusement park, La Ronde, to themselves for an entire morning.

And you thought it was tough inviting 10 kids to your child’s birthday party.

Le Grand défi is staggering in scope. At its heart is Pierre Lavoie’s 1,000 km cycling journey. Over some 60 hours, 900 cyclists in relay teams accompany Pierre in a trip across the province of Québec, which culminates with the final group of cyclists entering Olympic Stadium. Where they are greeted by the 5,000 children who have won the honour of the Grand Prize.

Pierre’s goal is to expand le Grand défi to communities across Canada. Contact them to get more information.

Pierre Lavoie, a man with a big heart and an iron will.

Le Grand défi was born from tragedy. Pierre Lavoie lost two children to lactic acidosis, a rare hereditary illness. In response, he set out to raise awareness of the deadly condition by cyling 650 km across Quebec in only 24 hours. He called it the Défi Pierre Lavoie: Pierre’s challenge.

Then in 1999 he expanded the scope of the project and set to encourage Québec’s school pupils, as well as the general population, to adopt healthy life habits. The challenge became le Grand défi Pierre Lavoie.

“Our goal is for le Grand défi to go across Canada. We want to help the country make le virage santé (the switch to health) by adopting healthier habits.”
– Pierre Lavoie

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