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Schweitzer Fellow makes kids healthier, happier

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
August 15, 2014

Starkoff carries on humanitarian's legacy

Low-income children on the west side of Columbus won a triple crown when Brooke Starkoff (’13 PhD Exercise Science) was selected as a Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellow. They benefited from the expertise of the exercise science major, participated in fun sports and learned how good health can make life better.

Partnering with the YMCA Hilltop, Starkoff chose to address childhood obesity and physical inactivity among low-income families.  At the Y, she trained children twice a week to compete in an indoor triathlon called Kids TRI Too. She spent time with them swimming, cycling and running.

“Kids TRI Too left a lasting impression on me,” she said. “It started as a project to increase physical activity in children in the Hilltop neighborhood, but transformed into an opportunity to teach them about health and happiness. While I had a specific weekly training plan, we also spent time discussing life and the barriers some of them faced. Together, we found ways to overcome some of these barriers though physical activity.

“From the kids, I learned an incredible amount about how difficult life choices can be when you lack opportunities. In fact, I learned more about myself and the flaws in my preconceived notions than I expected.”

Kids TRI Too influences teaching

Starkoff, an assistant professor of exercise science at the College at Brockport, SUNY, uses her Schweitzer Fellowship experience in one of the courses she teaches, Obesity in Society.

“I often come back to my experience with Kids TRI Too, to help my students understand some of the barriers faced by people with low incomes,” Starkoff said. “We discuss the lack of access to safe places to play, sidewalks to ride or walk to school, access to healthy foods in school and in the neighborhood, and perceptions of health and weight.”

Starkoff also volunteers as a head coach for Girls on the Run, a national, physical activity-based, positive youth development program for third- to fifth-graders. It teaches them life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games.

“It is amazing how much you can incorporate major life lessons into running!” Starkoff said.

 

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