Ohio Northern University media relations representative Joy Brown, left, and senior Samantha Hurlburt, right.

Who needs to better prioritize their health? While eating a chocolate-covered pretzel, I reached the conclusion that I do. So, I’m participating in Ohio Northern University’s Next Step-You program, which pairs faculty and staff with exercise physiology students for a semester. The students develop a customized fitness plan and offer continuous coaching learned from their classroom studies, which provides them with great experiential learning. In turn, clients like me get to reap the benefits. How cool is that? During these next several weeks, I’ll fill you in on just how cool this is.

First, the operational basics: the program typically features in-person fitness instruction and consultation. This time around, Next Step-You is happening virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a learning curve for everyone involved, but the improvement opportunities still abound. 

Second, how I ended up writing about this: because of the change to virtual and because the program is so fabulous, an Office of Communications and Marketing colleague suggested the idea of a first-person participation narrative. Was there anyone willing to sweat a lot and be publicly candid about it? Yes, I said, because that’s how I roll, especially, it seems, if there’s embarrassment potential.

Thus, I invite you to follow along as I write a series of articles about this experience with student Samantha Hurlburt, a senior from Beavercreek, Ohio. There also may be the occasional social media post. I promise to fill you in on anything noteworthy, especially if it’s informative or entertaining.

In this first story, you’ll learn more about Samantha and me, the fitness plan she has crafted, and what we hope to gain from our multi-week adventure. I’m lucky to have been paired with Sam. She’s kind, intelligent, brave and honest. Also, unlike me, she knows how to properly do a push-up.

Here’s more about Samantha:

Q: Why did you choose ONU and your focus of study?

A: I wanted to know others in my classes and have resources available for when I need help. I appreciated all of the opportunities that a small campus could provide. My studies are specifically focusing on the physiology and anatomy of exercise. The stress it induces, the roles it plays on the body, and the health benefits/risks associated with a wellness journey. I am pursuing a clinical research concentration but the program is currently shifting its concentrations for the newer incoming students. I also have a public health minor that helped expand my knowledge of research and how to disseminate accurate information to the community. 

Q: What do you like about exercise physiology?

A: What specifically interests me about exercise physiology is the complex nature of the subject. I appreciate its understated value in preventing and managing health issues in the majority of the population. It's a lot more science-based and research driven than people assume. Yes, there are programs online where you take a course, read a test-prep book and sit for an exam, but I believe it pales in comparison to four years of foundational science courses that expand opportunities into allied and medical health fields. I think it will prepare me in the future for any medical-related career and I am sure my classmates feel the same. 

Q: What do you love about this course of study?

A: I love the diversity of course material that we take. There are classes that will prepare us to be real exercise physiologists, we have had classes out on the track, in the lab with a BOD POD that uses air displacement methods to accurately measure body composition (fat vs. muscle and bone tissue) We are actively engaging in the material. There are multiple classes that build upon each other such as taking Kinesiology to understand how to program exercises, injury limitations, and so forth. We have classes where we evaluate Electrocardiograms to study the abnormalities of the heart and how to program specific exercises to keep patients/clients safe. There are additional classes on aging, dietetic influences, and training diseased individuals all the way to advanced professional athletes. 

Q: What do you find most challenging?

A: Last year I participated in the Practical Applications class in person and it was one of the best classes I could have ever taken here. I was trusted with someone's health and fitness goals. I was responsible for applying my three previous years of formal education classes. I was expected to know and apply the material appropriately in a real-life semester-long example. Unfortunately, my client and I had to cease training in person but we moved to a virtual model that Dr. P has now transformed into Next Step You. It can reach more faculty and staff on campus as well as expand opportunities for students to gain experience in a supervised environment. I hope that this program will help students see all of the avenues they can take with this degree, strengthen their confidence, and provide an impact on those at ONU participating in the program. 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as part of a Next Step-You team?

A: I know this is an ambitious goal, but I want Joy to feel the most confident and in-shape that she has ever felt. I want her to know that she can set any goal and exceed it while learning some lifelong tools in the process. I want this experience to bolster an already healthy relationship with food and exercise and provide a source of stress-relief from a busy life. I hope that I learn along the way some new skills and unique ways to program movements to keep her constantly motivated. I appreciate this opportunity so much!

Here are some relevant facts about me:

• I’m Ohio Northern’s assistant director of media relations, which means I get to promote fascinating University happenings while also nourishing my news hound sensibilities; prior to entering public relations, I was a newspaper reporter for several years.

• Like it was for so many others, 2020 was a horrible year for me. Because of the pandemic, I was laid off from a previous job I’d only had for six months and that had necessitated a big out-of-state move. Other personal challenges took their toll. Consequently, I ended up eating a lot, embracing self-pity and remaining sedentary while watching violent John Singleton movies on Netflix. The ONU job, which I started in December 2020, was a Godsend. Next Step-You is icing on the cake, an opportunity to right some wrongs.

• Exercise is nothing new to me. I’ve worked out a lot over the years, usually solo. I’ve run a handful of 5Ks. I remember getting plenty of worried side eye in the YMCA weight room just a few days before giving birth. I’ve kickboxed and TRX’d and bicycled and swam. My go-to aerobics video is vintage Cindy Crawford from 1993 and it still exhausts me.

• As such, I’m familiar with over-use injuries. The worst was achilles bursitis, acquired while running too much (apparently, “running too much” for me is anything over 10 miles a week). I like to run, but my body doesn’t seem to be made for it, given my injuries, and so I have to pay close attention to what I’m doing when I’m working out.

The goal: To increase physical strength and endurance, and to physically and emotionally feel better. I’d love to lose weight, but my overall plan is to simply get to a point where I’m not worrying about whether a pants button will pop off when I dare to sit down and I’m feeling more confident and upbeat.

The master plan:

• Establish a routine. Exercise at least five days per week for up to one hour each time. 

• Incorporate variety into workouts, such as cardio, strength and resistance training and Pilates.

• Learn some new techniques.

• Keep a food diary so that I’m more cognizant of what I’m consuming and to encourage healthier dietary adjustments.

To meet my goals and adhere to this plan, Sam and I have started meeting virtually once per week to review the daily fitness routines she has cooked up for me, to discuss any concerns either of us might have and to keep tabs on progress.

I know this adventure is going to be enormously challenging. I’m 47 years old, out of shape and I’m a single parent who commutes to work. Time, energy and creaky knees are going to be working against me. But, I’m also exceptionally motivated and ready to give it the old college try, so to speak. Be on the lookout for a follow-up story about how things are going!