LONDON, ONT. -- The ‘fit’ in Hockey FIT stands for Fans in Training.

The program spawned from a 2014 Western University pilot project encourages those who share a passion for their local hockey team to also develop a passion for fitness and good nutrition.

“It gives fans a bit of a chance to go behind the scenes with their favorite teams while coming together with other like-minded guys to try and improve their health,” according to Brendan Riggin, who is both a Hockey Fit coach and a scientist in Western’s Centre for Studies in Family Medicine.

The first question asked of fans was, ‘what will it take to get you interested?’

Riggin says the answer was almost always the same, “They said, ‘We like to be with other like-minded men and we like to associate physical activity with competition and sport.’ In Canada, that likely means they’re a hockey fan.”

Pete Miller was one of the early participants. “I would say the first two or three, or even four, sessions it was pretty tough you know. The legs burned, the lungs burned and everything; but by the end of it, it was quite enjoyable. I kind of got hooked on the fitness program.”

Hockey FIT program (File)

Hockey FIT program (File)

Miller has been an Owen Sound Attack season ticket holder for the more than two decades. He says the coaching sessions from Attack team members and trainers, along with a little friendly competition, helped motivate those who took part.

“Nobody wanted to be the last guy running around a lap on the track. They wanted to make sure they improved their conditioning every week.”

Riggin says, while it has put some training sessions on hiatus, COVID-19 has not slowed interest in Hockey FIT. The program currently has about 2,000 participants across the country and seven more teams have signed on to take part in the fall.

“Teams have really been fantastic to work with, they really want to engage with their fans and give back to them in any way they can. And they’ve seen this as an opportunity to do that.”

He says the program appeals to communities of all sizes.

“Centres like Mississauga, for example. But also some of the more rural communities like Owen Sound or, out west, Pentiction. It’s a very small community, about only 30,000 people and, often, about 3,000 of them will attend games. So it’s a significant portion of their community that’s attending the hockey games and following the team. We had a fantastic response out there, as well.”

Riggin stresses that even a little bit activity and good nutrition can go a long way to combating health issues like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.