Soccer player Ashton McKeown didn’t pay much attention to the nation’s chronic childhood obesity problem until the day she looked in the mirror and saw a young woman who ate more pizza than vegetables, sat around more than ran around and didn’t feel much like doing anything.
“I was eating bad stuff, not taking care of my body and not working out as much as I should have been,” Ashton said.
Ashton had been active for most of her life, excelling in soccer through middle and high school and eventually landing a spot on the Long Beach State women’s team. Years of defending shots in goal, however, took its toll and Ashton required surgery on her worn shoulder following her senior year of high school. Sidelined for three months then slowed by a long rehabilitation process and steady diet of poor choices, Ashton quickly got out of shape. She was short of breath during drills once she got back on the field at Long Beach State and “it took a toll on me.”
Not to mention her playing time. Ashton, a highly regarded goalie from Calvary Chapel High in Costa Mesa, found herself with limited minutes and only two starts her freshman season, forcing her to re-evaluate her lifestyle. She threw out the junk food and filled her plate with vegetables and lean protein, and began working out to increase her stamina.
“I had to,” she said. “So I just started working really, really hard and I got back into shape, and once you’re in shape, it’s easier to stay in shape.”
By the end of her sophomore season, Ashton was the Big West Goalkeeper of the Year and an all-conference pick. She leaves Long Beach second all time in shutouts (27), saves (223) and goals against average (.77).
“I love to volunteer with kids and I want them to be in the best possible position to accomplish any dreams they have. So if they want to play a college sport, if they want to do whatever they want, I want them to be in a good position to do that.”
Ashton’s healthier outlook eventually colored the way she looked at the kids who attended the school where her mother taught.
Healthy lunches landed in the trash can. Processed boxed lunches, pizza, cookies and juice were consumed daily. Exercise? Forget it. The kids complained that it is too hot, too hard or too boring. Ashton wanted to change that and began her quest to lower the nation’s childhood obesity rate.
According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of the 12.7 million young people (ages 10 to 17) in the country were considered obese in 2014.
“I love to volunteer with kids and I want them to be in the best possible position to accomplish any dreams they have,” Ashton said. “So if they want to play a college sport, if they want to do whatever they want, I want them to be in a good position to do that.”
Ashton, 21, regularly runs fit-a-thons at local schools in an effort to promote the promise of fitness, health and well-being to kids in the area. She often talks her teammates into joining her at the schools when the team is idle.
“I don’t think our society stresses enough how important physical health and bodily health is, like eating the right things and getting the right amount of sleep and mental health as well,” Ashton said. “I think all those types of things are important to talk about.”
Her willingness to teach kids about healthier lifestyles in between classes and soccer games earned her a nod as one of the top 40 people under the age of 40 by the Long Beach Post.
Ashton said it’s equally important to reach the parents as well because they are the ones who pack their kids’ lunches.
“It’s definitely a big responsibility for the parents, too, to make sure their kids are eating healthy because kids, one way or another, can get candy from school,” she said. “But if you’re putting them in the position to succeed, to be in the best position to be healthy, that’s where it starts.”
A communications studies major, Ashton said she isn’t sure what she wants to do after graduation. Yet for the time being her goals include landing an internship with a surf company, and continuing to plan events and community service projects for the Long Beach State Student-Athlete Committee.
“I’m not really sure what I want to do after school, but I know that while I’m in this position to volunteer with these elementary schools and hang out with these kids and be a positive role model, I definitely want to take as much advantage of it as I can,” she said.