Schweitzer Fellow Brooke Stafkoff

Schweitzer Fellow Brooke Starkoff

Schweitzer Fellow Brooke Starkoff, a graduate student at Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, partnered with the YMCA of Central Ohio to make routine exercise fun for kids. Although nearly none of her students had heard of the sport of triathlon—races that see competitors swimming, biking, and running in one race—before Brooke introduced them to it, they were all “incredibly excited” to train for an indoor race. 

Q: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
A: I believe most kids truly enjoy being active, but do not always have the opportunity to participate in physical activity. I wanted to offer a fun, low-pressure program in which these children can participate and feel part of a bigger group. For me, as a child and an adult, physical activity has been instrumental in maintaining health as well as developing confidence and pride. A sport like triathlon offers these kids the opportunity to accomplish a goal, which many of them never believed they could achieve.

Q: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
A: I sincerely hope these children will be reminded of how much fun it is to be active. I would love for them to walk away from this program with a greater interest in taking care of their health. Even more so, I hope they have a stronger sense of self and become more aware of all they are able to achieve.

Q: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
A: I truly believe that obesity, both in adults and children, is the most pressing health related issue. It is particular frightening in children, due to the greater number of years they are exposed to the negative impacts caused by obesity. The fact that we are seeing a significant number of children with Type 2 Diabetes and early indicators of cardiovascular disease is alarming. This generation of children will grow to be very sick adults if we do not intervene and make changes. We must help reintroduce regular physical activity to our children and work to offer them healthier food options both at school and at home.

Q: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
A: Many of the children I am working with are incredibly excited to exercise with me and are looking forward to the indoor triathlon. This surprises me because many of these children have never before participated in or even seen a triathlon. It is great to hear them talk about the upcoming race and watch how hard they push themselves during our time together. I am incredibly proud of all of their efforts.

Q: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow for Life mean to you?
A: It is truly an honor to be associated with the Albert Schweitzer name. Albert Schweitzer lived his life helping others, not as an obligatory chore, but as a way of being and I strive to do the same. Since my first day as a Schweitzer Fellow I have felt great pride in my project and in the hopes that I can make a difference in the lives of these children. However, I also feel that being a Schweitzer Fellow involves more than my kids’ triathlon project. I too feel the “reverence for life” and strive to continue to create change and make a difference.

Click here to learn more about the Columbus-Athens Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.