Interactive stations throughout Barrow's Ipalook Elementary School offered opportunities to have fun and experience wellness activities. - Photo by Mary Virginia Stroud

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Barrow celebrates wellness with week of healthy living

January 23rd, 2015 | By Jennifer Nu Print this article   Email this article  

On Saturday, the halls of Ipalook Elementary School thundered with the footsteps of almost 300 Barrow residents who came out to walk, run, and move around at the third annual Family Fun Day. The award-winning event was the centerpiece of the week's free family-friendly wellness activities sponsored by the Diabetes Prevention Program at the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital with support from the Iḷisaġvik College Cooperative Extension Service.

The Indoor Fun Run/Walk kicked off the morning with adults and children of all ages walking, jogging, and sprinting for an hour. There were even a few babies in carriers taking in all the action. The event's organizers provided pedometers, water, and healthy snacks throughout the day.

Long after the "official" one-hour run/walk event was over, Brandon Macavinta steadily kept forging ahead. The 13-year old remembered the event from a few years ago and returned with the goal of walking until he could walk no more. After many hours, he stopped after logging over 14,000 steps, which translated into about 7 miles. His reason for walking so far was simple: "I want to stay fit, that's all."

For the second year in a row, Hermilina Romero won first place in her age category for most steps walked. She walked over 26,000 steps, the equivalent of more than 13 miles, and she explained that she does it to be a role model for encouraging the children to be active.

After the Fun Walk/Run, interactive stations throughout the school offered opportunities to have fun and experience wellness activities. "Every single station is a chance for anyone to do something positive for health and well-being," explained Laura Thomas, SSMH Diabetes Program Assistant and event coordinator. "Health is not just about knowing your numbers or eating certain foods. It's about physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, and that's exactly the message we are trying to get across to everyone today." For people with diabetes, activities such as the ones offered at the event can help with preventing, managing and even reversing the disease."

Chef Rob Kinneen, a featured chef on ANTHC's Store Outside Your Door Youtube video series and profiled in a recent edition of 'Alaska' magazine, dazzled people's palates with Alaskan beef and venision curry on brown rice and fresh spring rolls.

"The curry is great for caribou or moose or other local meats," he said as strips of meat sizzled in coconut oil with vegetables in a broth of aromatic curry paste and coconut milk.

Kinneen and his assistants also demonstrated making fresh spring rolls using thinly sliced vegetables, vermicelli noodles, tapioca wrappers and a choice of red salmon, whitefish, or paniqtaq made from dried bearded seal meat. After watching the rolls being made a few times, participants enjoyed making their own.

"I really enjoyed the fresh rolls. It's the first time I've seen paniqtaq in them," said Judy. She came to check out the event with her little sister, who was cartwheeling around the hallway with a big smile on her face.

In the gym, volunteers offered free screenings to check hemoglobin A1C, blood pressure, and body composition. Every hour, the stage filled with adults and children dancing to the tropical rhythms of salsa music as they followed the Latin dance moves of Zumba instructor Melissa Ortega.

Dr. Gary Ferguson of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) orchestrated the popular Strong Human Competition. "It's so good for folks to engage in a healthy sense of competition to move and be energized," he said as participants raced across the gym with weighted boxes and buckets of food intended to simulate bush residents who make the mad dash "grocery carry' when they fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Meda Dewitt-Schleifman who organizes ANTHC's Alaskan Plants as Food and Medicine program, came to share resources about Alaskan plants and encouraged participants to get up close and personal with plants as they played a Twister game featuring edible or medicinal North Slope plants.

"Being active is fun, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Our goal with today and the week of healthy living is that people learn something new, something they enjoy," expressed Angela Valdez, Diabetes Program Coordinator at the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital (SSMH). "I hope everyone learns one thing from this event to add one healthier choice to their life."

Kids and adults practiced their balance as they dashed through an obstacle course set up by ANTHC physical therapist Sandy Graham. Exercises led by Ilona Kemp prepared folks to strengthen their muscles for cross-country skiing and general fitness. Chair massages, hand massages with essential oils, yoga, and qi'gong sessions were also offered to promote mind-body well-being, stress management and relaxation.

This year, the North Slope Imagination Library's version of StoryTRACKS decked the halls with giant pages of a picture book for families to read as they moseyed from station to station.

Childcare was provided by volunteers who led parachute activities and other games.

Dr. Julien Naylor, an internist, Diabetes Educator, and former chef from Sitka shared information on 'Extraordinary Foods for Good Health' and a chance to taste wild fermented foods, including spicy mustard, ginger carrots, beets, and salsa.

At another station, agronomist Dr. Jeff Smeenk and dietitian Luz Smeenk helped budding Barrow gardeners assemble their own mini-greenhouses for growing microgreens based on the results of a quiz called "What type of gardener are you?"

"I'm a Green Thumb," said Jennifer Sargent, a lifelong gardener who learned about growing and putting up food from spending summers with her grandmother. "I've always had a garden," she said as she watered soil in the bottom of a clear plastic take-out food container and planted chives, lettuce, and spinach seeds. "Even here I have a cup of flowers in my windowsill, so I'll add this to the collection." Sargent plans to show her kids how to care for the mini-greenhouse and harvest the bounty so the cycle of sharing plant knowledge and experiences will continue.

The event ended with an awards session and many joyful faces. "This is the most fun I've had and my kids have had in a long time," said Katrina Watson, who brought her children, ages 4, 5, and 14. "I was happy because my kids got to run around, and I got to run around," she smiled. "This event really promoted healthy living and healthy food, and I really appreciated it!"

For more information about ongoing healthy living workshops in Barrow, call Laura Thomas at 852-3755 or Angela Valdez at 852-9372.

Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Alaska. Contact her at


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