Interview with Former Olympian Dr. Sarah Messiah – Part 1

We met Dr. Sarah Messiah through the HOPS Research project conducted on the OWG material.  Recently we learned that Sarah is not only instrumental in the fight against childhood obesity, she is also a former Olympian! 

OWG:  Can you give us a brief overview of your work as a scientist?Partners_in_Caring_Luncheon

Sarah: Let me begin by saying, there’s never a dull moment. Each day is different! My research portfolio consists of a broad range of projects all focused onchildhood obesity in one aspect or another. For example, on one end of the spectrum I am currently working closely with the Miami Dade County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces to promote health and wellness in school-age children. A true public health initiative that I am totally committed to! On the other end of the spectrum, I work closely with a bariatric surgery team learning about the cardiometabolic and mental health outcomes of those adolescents who have undergone bariatric surgery as a result of their morbid obesity. This research allows me to learn about the extreme consequences of childhood obesity, and possible treatment options.  I believe in a team approach in all of my projects so my days typically consist of meetings with the various research groups to discuss the progress of our studies, but also may include working on analysis of our data or manuscripts for publication, going to clinic to see how our patients are doing, or going to the lab. In this process, we are always learning, and thinking about the challenges and questions we still don’t have answers to, which leads to the next grant submission.

In addition to this, I travel to present our research results all over the country and the world. I guest lecture both on and off campus, mentor post doc fellows and doctoral students. Like I said, never a dull moment but I wouldn’t have it any other way- I absolutely love what I do!

OWG: What motivated you to get involved with the childhood obesity issue?

Sarah: I have been an athlete all of my life. It is a huge part of my identity and I realize as I move through my career as a professor and as a mom, what extensive benefits leading an active lifestyle can have beyond the playing field. Exercise gives me energy. It makes me feel great, helps me think clearer, and deal with stress better. I want every child to have this experience! Unfortunately, due to the increase in sedentary lifestyles or increase in physicalinactivity, I don’t think many children get to experience the true benefits of regular physical activity. It is really upsetting to me to witness the medical consequences of being obese as a child on a daily basis. Childhood should be about feeling great, discovering new interests and activities, and living life to the fullest.  Every single child should have these opportunities!

OWG: You were a multi-sport athlete growing up, but did not get into kayaking until college. What tips would you give to parents and kids who want to succeed in their athletic endeavors?

Sarah: My parents were the foundation of my athletic achievements, without a doubt. They always encouraged and supported an active lifestyle for me and my sister and they were/still are both very active too (my dad, at age 82 hiked up a 3500’ mountain with me and my kids!).  We regularly hiked, skied and went swimming as a family.  When we’d have snow days from school, they would let us throw the skis on the roof rack and head out to the slopes for the day rather than staying at home watching tv, for example. They carted me and my sister to games, meets, competitions, year round. It’s a huge commitment. Now that I’m a (single) mom of three very active children- two in competitive sports, I can even more fully appreciate all that they did and realize that leading by example is key.

My advice to other parents who have children involved in (competitive) athletics is to always be there in support and encouragement. Always! Children learn just as much from losing or from their failures as they do from winning. No athlete wins 100% of the time. If parents pressure their children to win all the time they risk the child dropping out of sports all together. Don’t go overboard with the training/practice schedules either. Keep it fresh and change up the routine. Make sure your children are well nourished, well hydrated and well-rested. Good quality sleep is completely undervalued yet is essential for recovery and energy. Drinking lots of water, and making water the hydration choice is best. If your child is very active I would also encourage a once daily multivitamin and make sure they’re getting enough calcium intake. The foundation of bone health is laid down in early adolescents and is basically done by the late teens so it is very critical for injury prevention and osteoporosis prevention later in life. Last, but certainly not least- have fun!!

Check back tomorrow for part two of Sarah’s interview and to learn about her work with the Women’s Sports Foundation

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