Children complete the first mile of a marathon during the McAllen Kids Marathon McAllen at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Sept. 10, 2016, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

For three years straight, the city of McAllen has won the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge and the community is not ready to give up.

Mayor Jim Darling confirmed the city will continue their ninth annual participation of the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge, a challenge presented by H-E-B and organized by the Austin-based nonprofit of the same name, aimed at reducing preventable diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

“We’re a three time defending champs, so we’re not gonna give it up very easily,” Darling said.

During the 2020 Community Challenge, the organization reported 33,194 participants racked up a total of nearly 50 million points for their communities. As a result, 95% of participants felt confident that they would continue to progress towards their goal to be more active, according to a release.

For McAllen, the city has a lengthy record of appearing in high rankings in surveys of metro areas with high obesity rates.

In 2012, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metropolitan statistical area ranked first in the list of “Most Obese Metropolitan Areas in the U.S.” by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Then, in 2017, McAllen dropped down to the fourth fattest city in America by wallethub.com

Prior to the emergency lockdown for COVID-19, on March 4, WalletHub released another similar survey on the most overweight and obese cities in the U.S., ranking the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area first in “fattest cities,” according to the report.

Despite these survey results’, McAllen has been very aggressive in combating diabetes and obesity — they’ve been undefeated for three years in the It’s Time Texas challenge.

Last year, the city hosted a free, outdoor walking event in participation for the community challenge to help encourage McAllen employees and residents to move and exercise during the day for better health and peace of mind.

Additionally, the city of McAllen and the school district has also partnered with The Monitor in holding annual events to encourage healthier living such as the McAllen Kids Marathon and the Scott Crane Memorial Run.

Even with the pandemic, the city isn’t looking to back down from the challenge. In fact, Darling mentioned they’ve already sent out in their December newsletter instructions on how to register for the challenge.

“Physical fitness is a great, great preventer, more now than ever with COVID-19,” Darling said. “Hopefully people get the message and we’ll be able to turn out and do the same thing.”

Due to the pandemic, the community challenge encourages participating in a virtual workout or taking a socially-distanced walk out, for example, in addition to other healthy choices such as drinking water and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Cyclists ride together during the Ride of Silence on May 16, 2018, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Similar to the nonprofits’ suggestions, Darling said they’ll have to hold smaller events here people could space out.

“I know at the park, we can keep people physically separated, so we could do yoga classes pretty easily,” Darling said in regard to how the city plans to participate in the challenge safely during the pandemic. “The runs are a little bit harder to do, you can keep people spread, but you gotta start in groups, so that’s a little bit harder.”

The It’s Time Texas Community Challenge runs Jan. 4 through Feb. 28, 2021, though early registration is now open and available in English and Spanish. The statewide competition encourages communities to come together for an eight-week competition to build and transform health, according to the nonprofit’s release.

The challenge is free and open to everyone: individuals, families, mayors, school districts, employers and businesses.

All of these choices and events award points for the participants’ communities and weekly chances to win prizes, which can then be tracked in the nonprofit’s new Community Challenge app. According to the It’s Time Texas, the only way to log points is through the free, bilingual mobile app, available for iPhone and Android.

“We’ll be okay,” Darling said. “Let’s just figure out where we are with COVID and how to do it.”

To register for the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge, visit http://www.ittcommunitychallenge.com or @itstimetx on Instagram.