Bill Freeland has always been somewhat of a nut about fitness.

Ifyou can name a sport, chances are he's played it. But the 47-year-old Havre de Grace resident is about to discover some sports he knows nothing about. He's never seen them. In fact, he can't even spell them.

Freeland leaves next weekend for 10 days in China as part of an exchange program sponsored by the Seattle-based Citizen Ambassador Program. Freeland will travel from Beijing to Hong Kong, touring sports and recreational facilities for Chinese folks of all ages and abilities.

"To have the opportunity not only to see another country but to talk to people from another country about health and fitness is really something," said Freeland, a physical education teacher at William S. James Elementary School.

Freeland has so many questions they already make his head spin. But he'll probably discover differences about sports and fitness that are as vast as the cultures themselves.

"I'd like to see how they bring their youngsters through the channels to the point where they get to be Olympians," said Freeland, who also teaches a fitness class at Harford Community College. He marveled at China's ability to turn out internationally competitive athletesas young as 12 years old in diving and gymnastics.

He'll get a chance to see firsthand the way athletes are selected and trained for elite competitions. At the Beijing Institute of Physical Education, children as young as age 6 who have tremendous athletic potential are housed and trained by the state.

As much as Freeland hopes to learnabout the selection and training of elite athletes, he is even more interested in the way fitness relates to the everyday lives of Chinese adults.

"We have our health spas, fitness centers and parks and rec departments. What do they have that would be equivalent to that?

"It would be nice to see what kinds of 'playground' activities they have that are fitness-oriented or recreation-oriented. What types of activities do they use in their spare time? I'm hoping to go out inthe morning before breakfast, take a walk and have a look. You always see films of everybody out doing their morning exercises. I would like to see that."

Among the stopping places on Freeland's agenda is a street-corner park in West Beijing, where people practice will-boxing, a traditional Chinese form of martial arts. Freeland has made fitness such a part of his everyday life that he wonders whether the Chinese have to. He wants to find out about the different forms of martial arts and traditional Chinese sports that would be comparable to the running, cross country skiing or weight training that he tries tofit into his everyday schedule.

One of Freeland's goals as a phys-ed teacher in Harford County for the last 20 years has been introducing youngsters to sporting activities that can help make them fit forlife. Under his direction, William S. James pupils raised $11,700 for the American Heart Association in last year's Jump Rope for Heart.

"Here, fun and fitness is something a lot of people take for granted," said Freeland, who along with his wife, Cassie, helps run a summer camp in Maine.

"Here, (fitness is) something people say, 'I cando it if I want to, but I don't have to.' Over there, it might be different. It might be something that's developed earlier. It might be something that just stays with you, something that becomes a habit. It might be a part of their lifestyle from the time they're very younguntil old age."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad