Matt Iseman has quite the résumé. He’s the host of the Emmy nominated “American Ninja Warrior,” the newest Celebrity Apprentice, a comedian, actor and doctor. He is a strong advocate for the Arthritis Foundation, among many others, and is fighting an ongoing battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis himself. Even with his ridiculously hectic schedule, Iseman still sees the importance of taking the time to live an active lifestyle in order to feel his best.
To add to his long list of accomplishments, this September Iseman will be the keynote speaker at the 2017 NRPA Annual Conference, and he couldn’t be more excited to meet with park and recreation professionals in the Big Easy.
Parks & Recreation recently caught up with Iseman to learn why he feels parks and recreation is vital to our lives and what quality recreation opportunities mean to him. Trust him, he’s a doctor.
Parks & Recreation magazine: You’re the host of American Ninja Warrior, which just started its new season and is a pretty rigorous physical competition. As far as health and wellness, which is one of NRPA’s Three Pillars, why do you feel physical activity is so important?
Matt Iseman: What I’ve seen in my life is that staying active keeps you active. In other words, the more active I am, the better I feel. Like with American Ninja Warrior, it shows what the average person can do with a little hard work. We’ve been watching the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup, and these are world-class athletes. With American Ninja Warrior, these are ordinary people who have families and full-time jobs — they don’t get paid to work out, but they find time to do it. It’s really inspiring for people watching at home to see these competitors and see what’s possible. They see the power of hard work and physical activity. They see these people not only transform their lives physically, but also the discipline that comes along with working out and feeling better. But you don’t have to be an American Ninja Warrior — sometimes it’s just being more active than you were the day before.
P&R: Recreational programs and activities bring people together and promote healthy lifestyles. How important is the role of parks and recreation in making a difference in communities and shaping the lives of all people from different ethnicities, ages and abilities?
Iseman: We get submission videos every year from people working out at parks and playgrounds, finding ways to get active. Just having a place to go do it is really important. I grew up playing sports, and I can think of a dozen parks around the area I grew up where I played soccer, baseball and football. Those parks were a part of my life and were a place where people would go to be active and have a good time. The cool thing is that parks are places people can go to be together. They’re really an invaluable thing to have in society because, despite being more connected today than ever before, personally, people are becoming more disconnected. Parks are a gathering place for people. Being a doctor, and someone who’s around health and wellness, I see how we’re getting increasingly less active and how important it is to have a place like a park where kids can go run around and learn to make physical activity a part of their lives.
P&R: A big concern right now for park and recreation professionals is that federal budget cuts may threaten a lot of the programs that are beneficial to our communities. What can we do?
Iseman: The fact that funding is being cut just shows how important it is to find causes that are truly important to you and to crusade for those causes. It’s hard to control how the government waxes and wanes on what’s important, but we, as people in the community, can always make a difference. It can start in your neighborhood park — just getting out there and making sure that if it’s important to you, you share that importance with other people. We have to realize that starting locally is the best way to make things happen globally.
P&R: The CDC recently released a study on the prevalence of arthritis in rural America, and how access to activity through park and recreation agencies can help decrease the pain associated with arthritis. In your experience with rheumatoid arthritis and your work with the Arthritis Foundation, what does access to quality recreation mean to you?
Iseman: I had to find a gym in Los Angeles that had a pool, and my girlfriend recently showed me a public pool where, for a few dollars a day, we can go and use an Olympic-caliber pool. What the CDC said is something that I’ve noticed, personally, in my life dealing with RA — the more active I am the better I feel and the more active I’m able to be. So having access to places like parks is the biggest thing. If you can walk a block to your neighborhood park and run around or play a sport, the easier it is to do it. We need to break down the barriers to make sure these places are available and, more importantly, that kids learn these habits so they become part of their lives.
P&R: What are you most looking forward to about being the keynote speaker and spending time at the 2017 NRPA Annual Conference?
Iseman: I’m ecstatic to go to New Orleans and see people from around the country who have this passion for parks and recreation and hear their ideas and the ways they try to make these parks more valuable to people. I’m interested to see how people are becoming more creative with the spaces. Just like American Ninja Warrior is encouraging people to be more active, being around people who have that same agenda, I think we can do a lot of good together. We can try to create some synergy in the messages and feel like we’re all on the same page and want the same thing: getting people more active and healthier. We’re all trying to encourage people to get active and take care of themselves, and in the end this builds a better country.
Cort Jones is the Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.