Healthy environment = Healthy People

Bev Brody of Get Fit Kaua’i believes providing jogging/bike paths and safe walks to school is the best way to promote health

Building communities for people – and not just cars – is one of Bev Brody’s main goals as Get Fit Kaua’i’s Health and Built Environment project facilitator.

Environment directly impacts health, and taking into consideration pedestrians and bicyclists, for example, helps promotes physical wellness.

“We have to think about people and health,” says Brody. “We have the power to do that.”

The gregarious fitness enthusiast hopes to move the community in that direction by actively supporting infrastructure and systematic changes through public outreach.

The organization she heads, Get Fit Kaua’i, a state-funded group, formed originally in 1994 through the state Department of Health. At that time, each island was responsible for promoting increased physical activity. Prior to 2008, the organization focused on individual health and behavioral changes. In recent years, however, the mission shifted to improving environments and policies.

Now the organization helps provide physical activity opportunities and increased access to healthy foods on a community-wide scale. Walk to School Day, which encourages students across the island to walk to school once a month, thereby boosting physical activity and cutting traffic congestion, is one of the many success stories of the amended project.

Under the umbrella of Get Fit Kaua’i’s task force Safe Routes to School, the group also is devoted to increasing the number of stop signs, pathways and crosswalks surrounding campuses.

In addition, Get Fit Kaua’i was behind House Bill 2626, which made traffic violation penalties within school zones more stringent. The additional surcharges collected are earmarked for infrastructure changes across the Islands to help make safer routes.

“It’s one of our greatest accomplishments,” says Brody.

Creating safer routes for everyone is a large part of Get Fit Kaua’i’s mission. Its Complete Streets’ task force, for example, is aimed at considering all modes of transportation when building new streets or retrofitting existing roads.

Safer streets isn’t the only thing that concerns Get Fit Kaua’i members. Providing easier access to healthy foods is another focal point.

The organization participated in making EBT (electronic benefit transfer) available at local farmers markets for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“We’re hoping they will buy healthier locally grown food with this program,” says Michelle Martinez, Get Fit Kaua’i’s Healthy Foods coordinator and chairwoman of the Access to Healthy Food task force.

The Mayor-A-Thon is another project made possible by Get Fit Kaua’i. The annual trek occurs each June, and was initiated when Kaua’i Path’s Ka Ala Hele Makalae opened phase two of the beachside trail.

“We wanted a celebration of a built-in environment change to support active living,” says Brody.

When she presented the idea to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., he was immediately on board. Originally, Brody planned for a one-time event, but it was so successful it has since flourished as a yearly activity, where up to 1,000 people join the mayor for a walk, bike or run along the coastal path.

“This path is really one of the best things that ever happened to this island,” says Brody, who would like to see construction of a similar nature around more parts of the island.

Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Brody wasn’t always an advocate for healthy living. In fact, as a teenager, she admits to weighing around 160 pounds, often indulging in unhealthy food and behaviors. It was a contest she won at Denny’s restaurant, ironically enough, for one week at a gym that altered her perspective on health.

“What a shock. I loved it,” says Brody, who ended up joining the gym and attending “religiously.”

One day, an instructor at the gym she frequented sprained her ankle just minutes before class and asked Brody to take over.

She’s been teaching fitness classes ever since.

Brody, who once owned a Gold’s Gym and served as fitness director at a YMCA in Canada, has a certificate in health and fitness from Simon Fraser University. Currently, she teaches classes for Ho’ola Lahui Hawai’i, a community center that focuses on Native Hawaiian health. She teaches a step class and core strength and conditioning in Lihu’e and Kapa’a, and has been a part of the organization since 1996, shortly after she moved to the island.

While working as a sports coordinator for a club in Canada, Brody flew to Maui for a personal trainers and fitness instructors’ course. After graduating, she was invited to work for the company. She promptly took a yearlong leave of absence from her job, but rather than return, she chose to move to Kaua’i in 1993.

By 1994, Brody, who is married to painting contractor Rick Skerik, became involved with Get Fit Kaua’i. She continues to promote kama’aina health and fitness.

“She is one of the hardest-working women on Kaua’i,” says Jodi Drisko, chairwoman of Get Fit’s Kaua’i’s steering committee and coalition. “She really has a lot of energy and drive to help people live more healthfully.”

Brody also co-hosts a show with DJ Marc Valentin on KQNG radio Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. in promotion of health. She’s even active when she isn’t working, always going for walks or working in her yard in Kilauea.

“She’s a great friend, very motivational and has a good heart. She strongly believes in what she’s doing,” says Drisko.

Drisko is one of a handful of Get Fit Kaua’i employees and volunteers, including Martinez and Safe Routes to School coordinator Jenn Linton, who work with Brody on a regular basis.

“She’s an off-the-scale extrovert with tons of energy and drive,” says Drisko. “She is grounded by a bunch of introverts who really think things through and are methodical. It’s a good marriage in that way – we have complementary skill sets.”

More than 150 members comprise the entire organization, which also is supported largely by a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, and more are always encouraged to join.

“I am such a people person,” says Brody, who enjoys seeing the results that come from healthy living. “I love that – it’s over-the-top fabulous.”

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