"By doing this, I want to help more people avoid heart disease, and also help medical research."
Rachel Fischer made a slam dunk for heart health, by raising more than $1,000 for research.
The second grader at Lincoln Elementary School was one of many students who participated in Hoops for Heart, a fundraiser program that encourages healthy living and raises money for the American Heart Association. For Fischer, the opportunity was akin to a defensive rebound, as she has intimate knowledge of heart struggles.
"I have family and friends who have fought heart disease," Fischer said. "By doing this, I want to help more people avoid heart disease, and also help medical research."
Physical education teacher Matt Sandbo told students going in that every little bit helps, and that it's more important to contribute than worry about donation sizes. That didn't stop Fisher from going all-out — with the fundraiser over, her contribution totals $1,300.
"What's different about Rachel is she really understands the issue and how important it is to keep your heart healthy," Sandbo said. "When it's someone you know, that can make a big difference."
The school’s participation in the program began with someone dear to the school’s heart.
"This is something Mija Stockman started when she was the PE teacher," he said. "It fell off for a bit, so we started it up again last year at Lincoln, and we're hoping to make it a part of all the elementary schools."
Stockman was severely injured a little more than two years ago in a car accident when she was hit by a drunk driver on her way to work. She currently resides with her family in Overland Park where she is working hard on her recovery.
Hoops for Heart is related to the Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser McPherson County schools have done in the past. Each promotes physical activity — basketball and jumping rope, respectively — and encourages students to spread messages of good health to the community.
"We have speeches we give when asking for donations," Fischer said. "It also includes asking people to do something to have a healthier heart."
Fischer accepted the challenge to replace sugary drinks, even juice, with water. Other challenges included eating more fruits and vegetables, or getting 60 minutes of physical activity each week.
"I've done really well drinking more water, and I feel better, too," Fischer said. "It's hard when people say no, but you just have to keep going and not get that sad face."
This wasn't Fischer's first time on the court. Last year, she raised $655 for the American Heart Association. Overall, Lincoln Elementary School students raised $3,200 last year, and Sandbo expects similar or slightly higher figures this year.
Not only does Hoops for Heart get students involved in the community, it also provides a resource for teachers to provide valuable health lessons.
"It really makes them more aware," Sandbo said. "It's great for them to start thinking about these things at this age. Of course, it's never too late to start working on the heart."
Sandbo said it's not clear whether Fischer's $1,300 collection is a record. For Fischer, though, the donations are a bonus. What matters most is encouraging good health, and giving people a better shot at a better life.
"Then, they won't have heart disease," she said. "I think that would make the world a better place."