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Washington students receive surprise on Kids Heart Challenge day

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa visited Lincoln Elementary Thursday

Union photo by Gretchen Teske

University of Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa stopped by Washington High School on Thursday, Feb. 20, to chat with students during Kids Heart Challenge day.
Union photo by Gretchen Teske University of Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa stopped by Washington High School on Thursday, Feb. 20, to chat with students during Kids Heart Challenge day.
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WASHINGTON — Students at Lincoln Elementary in Washington were in for quite a surprise on Thursday when University of Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa stopped by Lincoln Elementary School to celebrate Kids Heart Challenge.

Formerly known as Jump Rope for Heart, the annual event has been celebrated by Lincoln Elementary Students for the last 20 years, according to principal Teresa Beenblossom. The entire school has the option to participate, she said and this year were successful in raising $8,530.

For the second year in a row fifth-grader Layla Hesser raised $1,029.35 and fellow fifth-grader Caden Heisner raised $1,029.35 making them the only two students to raise more than $1,000 that year. Shelby Crist, Youth Market Director for Kids Heart Challenge through the American Heart Association, said Lincoln is consistently in the top 15 schools throughout the 12 counties she covers that raises large sums for the organization.

The goal of the day is to teach students about heart health and Lincoln staff go above and beyond to accomplish that.

“They don’t have to this, it’s optional. So for them to take it, do it and take it a mile further to do everything they can is really special to us. The heart association is really thankful for this community,” she said.

Beenblossom said the school chooses to participate annually because teaching students about healthy habits aligns with the goals of education.

“I think that understanding that there is something bigger than us and helping other people is really important. This activity in itself allows the student to see how physical activity is good, even if it’s just five minutes,” she said.

Epenesa is a family friend of Beenblossoms and stopped by to chat with kids and visited with students at Lincoln Elementary, Washington Middle School and Washington High School. In between fistbumps and high-fives, he said he was glad to make the trip down to chat with students and reminisce on an activity he enjoyed when he was in school.

“It’s for a good cause and whenever you can come and support something like this, it’s really important to the kids that are enjoying it and then for someone they could possibly look up to come down and see it could encourage them even more,” he said.

Epenesa, a 6’6” junior at the University of Iowa is expected to be first-round draft pick for the NFL in the fall. Being a role model for students was never something he thought he would be, he said, but in his new role he takes it seriously to ensure kids see a positive influence in him.

“I want the kids to have fun. That’s the biggest thing is I want you to have fun when you’re young and not to worry about responsibilities,” he said. “I never really imagined that I cold come somewhere and impact people or children this way but to be able to do that means a lot to me.”