Blog: Embracing Innovation to Move Fitness Forward

By: Robin Thurston

Robin Thurston is a Board member for the National Fitness Foundation and currently serves as the CEO of Helix, where he is building the world’s first personal genomics platform. Prior to Helix, Robin served as Chief Digital Officer at Under Armour and led the overall strategic direction of the company’s Connected Fitness business. Before joining Under Armour, Robin co-founded and built MapMyFitness into one of the world’s largest open fitness tracking platforms.

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The initial idea of MapMyRide occurred to me in 2006. I was on a group bike trip through Switzerland and cycling among the winding hills of Andermatt, a beautiful mountain village that offers breath-taking views of the Swiss Alps with every turn. Over a post-ride dinner conversation, we imagined a technology that could allow us to remember our fitness adventure years later, one that could recount every exhausting incline and thrilling mile of our trip. At that moment, I was determined to turn that idea into a reality. 

The vision of MapMyRide was soon realized, and eventually, the website for MapMyRide merged with a similar existing platform called MapMyRun, to create MapMyFitness, a diverse digital fitness service capable of tracking, recording, and sharing user activity data. Services like route planning, nutrition tracking, and fitness calculators enabled every user, from the top-tier professional athlete to the novice gym member, to personalize their fitness experience and understand their progress like they never had before. Fueled by a team of creators and cutting-edge technologies, MapMyFitness evolved alongside the emergence of iPhone apps and social media platforms, and in 2013, Under Armour acquired MapMyFitness, followed by the addition of EndoMondo and MyFitnessPal and the launch of UA Record, making Under Armour Connected Fitness the largest digital fitness community in the world.

Whether it is how we use technology to track our health and fitness habits to how we analyze our biological information, I truly believe that human discovery is just beginning. At Helix, our mission is to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. How do we create a world where every person can discover their genetic information and use that information to better themselves and all of humanity? We research. We explore. We innovate.

At the National Fitness Foundation, where I have served as a board member since 2014, innovation is accelerating our solutions that prepare children for a lifetime of health and fitness. From digital platforms to fitness trackers, the tools and resources we use to track our fitness and inform our everyday decisions are constantly evolving. As turnkey technology continues to emerge within the health and fitness industry, and children absorb new habits that impact the way they learn and move, the Foundation is committed to developing programs and partnerships that can align and adapt with these changes. In a nation where childhood obesity is the fourth leading cause of death and kids are losing years from their life because of inactivity, innovation in youth fitness is not just needed, it is urgent.

The Foundation is focused on driving innovation to further health & fitness outcomes for children across the country. With physical education (PE) being the most inclusive means of providing physical activity opportunities for all students and with its proven effects on everything from test scores to self-esteem, physical educators are uniquely positioned to have a profound impact on the wellbeing of our youth and the overall future of fitness. This is why are we have prioritized bringing the best ideas and resources to PE through the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, the nation’s model for fitness education and assessment in schools. The program operates on a national level, reaching millions of students, but also drives local impact - which provides a unique opportunity to pilot innovations and scale equitable solutions with the support of forward-thinking partners who are committed to preparing all kids for a lifetime of health & fitness.

In a nation where childhood obesity is the fourth leading cause of death and kids are losing years from their life because of inactivity, innovation in youth fitness is not just needed, it is urgent.”

Before MapMyFitness transformed into a service used by millions, it was an idea inspired by a conversation between a few friends. Across the country, there are physical educators looking for the opportunities and resources to turn their own creative ideas into reality. At the National Fitness Foundation, we are committed to giving these creators a platform and working with them to innovate youth fitness. This fall, the Foundation has teamed up with DonorsChoose.org to launch the Physical Education (PE) Innovation Challenge, an opportunity for physical educators to submit their most innovative fitness education ideas, with the promise that every dollar donated will be automatically matched by the National Fitness Foundation.

The Challenge will include an expert judging panel, featuring leaders from Nike, Target, the American Heart Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, that will review a selection of submitted projects and determine the winning ideas. The top three projects will receive a DonorsChoose.org gift card, provided by the Foundation, that range from $5,000 to $10,000. With support from the Foundation, the expertise of health and fitness industry leaders and the creative ideas of physical educators, this Challenge is an exciting step in accelerating innovative solutions in physical education.

If you have a project in mind, or if you are looking to support the transformative work of physical educators, learn more about the Physical Education (PE) Innovation Challenge. Together, we can move fitness forward.