CLEARWATER — There was a time when any type of physical exertion would leave Martynas Lukosiunas wheezing and reaching for his inhaler.
Overweight and asthmatic, he could barely finish a lap around the tennis courts when he started playing four years ago.
Now at 14, he's a slim 6 feet 1 and asthma-free as well.
Martynas attributes his incredible transformation to playing tennis, a sport he now engages in three hours a day, at least five days a week.
"It changes you," the Clearwater resident said. "If you want to be the best, you think about what you eat and how much you are exercising."
On Saturday, Martynas and others will promote tennis as a fitness sport at the fifth annual Tennis Block Party at the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater. The bash features lessons, games and drills for all ages and skill levels.
It's free, too, with no registration required. All participants receive giveaways such as water bottles, T-shirts, tennis towels and small toys. Vendors will promote healthy living options. Clearwater's fire and police departments will offer fingerprinting and the opportunity to touch a truck.
The Suncoast Tennis Foundation has teamed up with the city of Clearwater, Healthy Choices for a Healthy Clearwater (a city initiative to encourage all residents to become fit), tennis teaching professionals and Advantage Yours Tennis and Running to stage the four-hour event, part of a nationwide effort to celebrate National Tennis Month.
This year, the emphasis is on the health benefits of the sport, like improved cardiovascular fitness, coordination, flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, said Judy Foster, executive director of the Suncoast Tennis Foundation.
"It's one of the best sports for overall fitness," she said, "a lifetime sport where people in their 80s and 90s are still competing in tennis tournaments across the nation."
Michelle Obama has been encouraging young people to get out and try the sport. As part of her "Let's Move!" fitness campaign, the first lady promotes tennis in a public service announcement that also features Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.
Kids new to tennis can enjoy playing right from the get-go Saturday with QuickStart Tennis, a format that uses pint-sized rackets, lower nets and softer balls. It's so easy, people are buying kits and setting them up in their driveways, Foster said.
Adults and experienced youth players can play in round-robin games and learn new strokes and techniques from area pros.
Foster hopes young and old alike will partake.
"Obesity is a major health concern, and tennis is a fun and easy way for everyone to get a good amount of exercise in a short period of time," she said.
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