Combining a family passion for fitness with the IHT ZONE personal heart rate monitor helped Juan Cajina build a running program that’s keeping a city’s youth active.
In early 2019, Juan Cajina wanted a device to measure his son Joshua’s fitness and activity levels. His research brought him to an Instagram post featuring the IHT ZONE.
“I had just started looking for devices,” Cajina, a youth sports coach in Union City, N.J., said.
The post caught his eye, and soon Cajina was exploring IHT’s website, learning about how the technology works to motivate students – Joshua is now 9 years old – to stay physically active and to make sure that activity is at an elevated heart rate.
“The more I learned, the more this seemed like heaven to me,” Cajina said. “I purchased one for my son to try out.”
A Family’s Focus on Fitness
Cajina’s family has always been focused on fitness. His mother-in-law set the tone with her devotion to walking. Cajina’s wife Vanessa took that one step further, turning to running to get back in shape after Joshua was born. Juan and Vanessa took him to the local track with them and took turns watching him while the other ran. Soon, Joshua was running with them.
“He learned to walk by watching us walk and run, and when he was old enough we put a soccer ball in front of him and he just became interested in keeping up with that ball,” Juan said. “He was running and he really didn’t know it.”
As Joshua kept running, Juan found the device that would help him focus on a key element of his personal fitness. The IHT ZONE put Joshua in touch with his heart rate. The personal heart rate monitor showed him what it looked like to push himself – both by heart rate reading and a color indicating his intensity level. Through conversations with his father, Joshua learned how exercising at an elevated heart rate helped his overall conditioning.
In addition to the real-time feedback Joshua saw as he ran, he also learned from the email he received when he wrapped up his run and turned the monitor off. After each run, he receives a report showing:
- A graph of his heart rate throughout his run;
- How many minutes he spent in each heart rate zone; and
- How his actual performance compared to goals for that type of workout.
“With my son, I could see the details and could look at the information with him,” Cajina said. “He was curious about the information the email shows and I got to learn more about his fitness level. I can see where he is and can explain exactly where he is.”
Developing a Program For Community’s Young Runners
Motivated by Joshua’s passion for running and his reaction to the personal heart rate monitor, Juan saw an opportunity to help children in one of the country’s most densely populated communities. He approached the Union City parks and recreation department about creating a program to get the city’s youth more active. He quickly found an ally in mayor Brian Stack.
“The mayor is very into fitness, wellness and keeping kids active,” Juan said. “When I showed him what these monitors could do for a running program, he was on board. For him, the program was a no-brainer.”
Juan agreed to serve as the program’s coach and director, and the city purchased a set of IHT ZONE monitors for the participants to wear. Like he saw with Joshua, Juan saw club participants take an immediate interest in the personal heart rate monitors and what they showed.
“The kids love that the monitors light up,” Juan said.
With the heart rate monitors waiting for them several times a week, a number of area children signed up to join the team – the Union City Running Eagles. The group met at a neighborhood school with an all-purpose field.
Each team practice began with a period of dynamic stretching followed by strength and agility exercises. Then members started off on a run.
“Each kid chooses how far to run based on what their ability is,” Juan said. “It could be a 5K, it could be 2 miles, it could be 2 laps around the track. We want everyone to try and do at least two laps.”
After each practice, Juan encouraged runners and family members to review the heart rate report they receive via email.
“They get to know their ability,” he said. “I encourage parents to take five minutes to look at the email and the heart rate chart. They are getting a better understanding of what they are doing and how it helps them.”
As a reward, club members would travel on the weekend and take part in large races. Unfortunately, the club had to stop going to events when everything shut down with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In March, it was 40 degrees and we took four buses full of kids and family members to run in an event,” he said. “We had a blast. Before things shut down, we were doing our strength and conditioning workouts twice a week and then spending one day going to an event.”
As communities began to open up during the summer, Juan’s team members came back and started working out again. That passion to keep exercising and running is exactly what he wanted to create.
“It was very important to me to develop this program,” he said. “I see this as another avenue for kids to get introduced to running. We can keep kids in shape and with good self-esteem. We are creating healthy kids in our community.”