Health and Wellness Director of the National Senior Games Association
Andrew Walker, BSHSE '81, is the health and wellness director of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA). The National Senior Games consists of 20 Olympic events and occurs biennially. His role and responsibilities include improving senior athlete's readiness for the games, supporting the sustainability of the games through the NSGA Wellness Ambassadors and helping participants and members stay fit and implement wellness activities between the games. His goal is to make wellness relevant to the NSGA, its members and qualifying participants.
The local games have qualifying events at the regional and state level every year with thousands of athletes competing, so there are numerous opportunities to collaborate with cities and states in sharing fitness information. Walker works to break barriers and cross the hurdles that prevent the flow of this information from the national level down to individual members competing at local and state level. The NSGA also aims to influence target populations throughout the U.S. Walker’s most recent work has been with the National Indian Council on Aging where he facilitated activities highlighting the intersection of sports, wellbeing and culture. Walker considers himself a “capacity builder.” He provides technical assistance to each state that hosts senior games, including creating opportunities to implement fitness research through the Senior Athlete Fitness Exam (SAFE).
A major focus of his educational efforts is centered around falls prevention. While there is a stigma about falling and the discussion of falls, it's important for seniors to have information on the associated risks. According to the SAFE study, only 10 percent of Senior Games members self-report falling within one year of competing in the games, whereas the national average of self-reported falling is 30-40 percent.
The most fun aspect of Walker's job is that he gets to travel and work with seniors at the games and engage with people in the community. He ran track at UF and loves watching the track events at the games.
His goals consist of identifying how many states implement the NSGA's programs and recommendations, while also encouraging states and Senior Games to collaborate with their Falls Prevention Coalition.
Walker's dream collaborations include working with the Olympic Training Center, a college training program and an organization that addresses ageism. The Olympic Training Center would be a great collaboration to allow seniors the opportunity to tour the facility, receive training tips and exercise there. With the focus on changing the current narrative of aging and fitness of seniors, partnerships and articles in major media, like the New York Times, could be incredibly effective in educating the public.
Walker has always been interested in health and wellness, so HHP was the natural choice for his college career. In the 8th grade, he was so passionate about fitness that he did his science project on the benefits of exercise. He was later recruited to UF on a track and field scholarship and was a four year letterman. He is a member of the Track Alumni Association and proud of the work his former college competitor Mike Holloway is doing as the head coach of UF Track and Field.
Favorite HHP memory
Walker's favorite HHP memory involved working with Dr. Varnes, Dr. Kauffman, and Dr. Zauner. A quote from Dr. Kauffman that has stayed with him was "Plan your work; Work your plan," in reference to succeeding academically and being prepared for the rigor of college. All three of these professors offered mentorship, support, and guidance to him during his time at UF, which was so important to him in having a successful college career. He also remembers meeting Dr. Robert Cade who is known for leading the team on the invention of Gatorade.
Advice to Student Athletes
Walker recommends that student athletes strive for success academically – have a plan and find books that teach you how to study and be successful in the classroom. He also advises to treat your college career and athletic commitments as two full-time jobs.
Walker's father is his inspiration. At 96 years old, he continues to prioritize his fitness with weekly Pilates classes and daily rides on a stationary bike. He jokes that the recent closure of fitness centers cramps his style because he can’t attend his usual classes at the local senior center.
Something someone may not know about Walker – he is a drummer and tai chi practitioner since the early 90s. He is also interested in the intersection of social justice and sports and is currently working on a community project with the Equal Justice Initiative.
[profile added in 2020]
For information regarding the National Senior Games Association, including updates on COVID-19 and the impact of the games, visit nsga.com.