‘Good Morning America’ makes stop in Albert Lea

Published 9:45 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

America woke up to a flood of more than 300 excited Albert Leans on “Good Morning America” Wednesday morning during what was a live segment promoting the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project.

Broadcasting from Brookside Education Center, the “Good Morning America” crew and weather anchor Sam Champion highlighted Albert Lea’s progress in moving toward longer, healthier and happier lives. Also appearing in the segment was Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner — author of “Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” — who is one of the co-founders of the Vitality Project.  For more on the story, visit www.austindailyherald.com.

Champion pointed out how large the crowd of Albert Leans was at the time of the broadcast. People, young and old alike, who were holding signs and cheering, were in the audience.

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A large majority of them wore the official blue Vitality Project T-shirts and had large smiles on their faces. Signs acknowledging Champion, “Good Morning America” and the Vitality Project could be seen all around.

“I thought it was great for Albert Lea,” said one resident, Shirley Kiel, who came out to be a part of the filming.

Kiel said because of the Vitality Project, she has started exercising more, eating better, socializing more and using small plates.

The project promotes simple changes such as these to increase longevity.

Champion said the average life expectancy in the United States is 78, but in other areas of the world people are living longer. It is the tips of longevity from those areas that Buettner is working to implement into the lives of Albert Leans. The Vitality Project is a pilot project for the rest of the nation.

While part of the Wednesday “Good Morning America” segment was live, part of it was also mixed with segments taped Tuesday from different people in town who have been affected by the project.

“I think that with the national publicity today and with ‘Nightline’ this will be a real positive exposure of Albert Lea,” City Manager Victoria Simonsen said. “It’s really nice to be selected as a real positive role model for the rest of the nation.”

Filming began Wednesday just after 6 a.m. as Champion gave a weather forecast from inside Brookside. He also led a group of Albert Leans through the hall of the district office.

Outside people had already started to arrive, eager to be a part of the filming.

Just before 6:45 a.m., a walking school bus of about 50 children, parents and other residents arrived from the west of Richway Drive.

They carried signs with phrases such as “Good Morning America! From Albert Lea’s Walking School Buses,” and “It’s cool to walk to school.”

The walking school bus group eventually met up with the bigger group of residents that came out to be a part of the filming.

Just after 7 a.m. Champion began instructing the crowd to cheer when instructed.

The crew filmed in brief segments. It ended around 8 a.m.

Afterward, Champion and Buettner signed autographs.

“I think it’s great,” said United Employees Credit Union employee Margaret Flatness of the filming. “I watch GMA every morning before work.”

Flatness attended with fellow co-workers Tami Charlton and Pam Hobson.

The women said because of the Vitality Project they have switched from having sweet snacks at work and have added a bike rack, to name a few of the changes.

“We’re just fortunate,” Hobson said.

Resident Ann Hoes said she hopes the initiatives in the project will become a habit for the community.

“Hopefully it will be a thing for the next generations, too,” Kiel added.

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh also acknowledged the exposure that the national morning show will bring to Albert Lea.

“If we weren’t part of this project, we certainly wouldn’t get this kind of exposure to the nation,” Murtaugh said.

Simonsen noted she hopes people know it’s not too late to get signed up for the project. People can do so through August.

“We need to capitalize on this opportunity and earmark ourselves as the vitality center,” she said.

She noted she has already been contacted by the officials of other cities, asking her how they can implement a similar project in their town.

An ABC “Nightline” crew was also expected to come to Albert Lea Wednesday.