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JAMES QUIGG, HESPERIA STAR
Ultimate Fighter Championship veteran James "Lightning" Wilks signs autographs for Carmel Elementary students in Hesperia Monday afternoon. Wilks was the winner of the UFC's Ultimate Fighter season nine, and offered encouraging tips to students about living a healthy lifestyle.

UFC veteran visits local school

Tips for kids from UFC fighter James 'Lightning' Wilks:

• Enjoy it — Do something that makes you happy and try to be the best that you can be.

• Be consistent — In order to get better at something, you have to do it every day.

• Take responsibility — Admit your mistakes.

• Embrace the journey — Failure is a step toward success.

• Constantly improve — You want to always learn new things. This develops your skills.

HESPERIA • Rows upon rows of 6th-graders sat straight up in their folding chairs, straining their necks to catch every last word that was spoken by James "Lightning" Wilks — an Ultimate Fighter Championship veteran who made an appearance at Carmel Elementary School on Monday.

Wilks, an Englishman who speaks with an uncharacteristic British accent, won season 9 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2009, competing professionally in mixed martial arts until a dormant neck injury resurfaced and forced him into retirement earlier this year. Wilks currently owns a gym in Laguna Hills and is working on a documentary and a board game — both of which are aimed at the importance of a plant-based diet.

Dressed in a simple plaid shirt, the 34-year-old Wilks hardly resembled earlier pictures of himself, wowing the students with a slideshow presentation of snapshots of himself in action. Before launching his presentation, Wilks emphasized that MMA, or cagefighting, is something that two people agree to — it is not bullying or fighting out of anger, he explained to his captive audience.

“There’s a referee, there’s doctors, there’s an ambulance,” Wilks said to his young fans. “It’s mutual combat.”

After Wilks made that point clear about his career, he went on to talk to the students about the importance of making healthy life choices, breaking down the elements of healthy lifestyle in ways that 6th-graders could easily grasp.

Although Wilks himself eats a strict plant-based diet, he did not tell the students that animal products are unhealthy or bad, but to increase their intake of brightly colored fruits and veggies and whole grains. He used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate to students the anatomy of a whole grain and how to read product labels and nutrition facts.

“Don’t fall into the advertising,” Wilks said, giving the students examples of how a label could mislead them into thinking something is healthy. “They’re just trying to sell more product.”

He also gave the students practical advice to being successful in whatever they chose to do, stressing the importance of finding something that makes them happy and that they love to do.

“In order to be successful, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do,” Wilks said. “For example, l don’t like lifting weights, but I have to do it because I love what I do and I wanted to be the best person I could be. Sometimes people with the best skill aren’t necessarily the ones that do the best.”

After Wilks’ presentation, he answered a series of questions from the students and also quizzed them about what they learned, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

One student, Eduardo Espinosa, 12, was inspired by Wilks’ presentation and said he was going to try not to eat hot Cheetos anymore.

Another student, Sebastian Rojas, 11, shared an epiphany: “Eating right and exercising is very important. But I never cared about that before. I do now, though, because I learned that I am actually very important.”

Lynnea Lombardo may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at LLombardo@VVDailyPress.com.


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