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Arnold School of Public Health

Exercise science researcher engages undergraduate students to pioneer first whitewater kayaking studies

November 8, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

Teresa Moore had been a competitive body builder and power lifter for a decade when she realized she could combine her personal interests of nutrition and exercise with her career. She enrolled at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to earn a Master of Public Health in Nutrition and became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

“It was that background and wanting to understand how the body adapts to diet and training that inspired me to go into the nutrition field,” Moore explains. “I wanted to find safe, healthy diet and exercise plans that were designed to meet the needs of competitive athletes and people just wanting to get in shape.”

After completing her master’s degree, she moved right into the department’s doctoral program — earning a Ph.D. in nutrition/exercise and sport science. While she was wrapping up her dissertation, Moore accepted an offer to join the Arnold School’s exercise science department in 1998, and she hasn’t looked back.

For 15 years, she taught courses and served as the undergraduate director. Today the clinical associate professor continues to teach and mentor undergraduate students and develop a unique research program.

In her personal life, Moore quit competitive weight lifting after a knee injury and two decades in the sport. She eventually got back into lifting to stay in shape but needed to find a new activity. It was around 2010, and to her surprise, that new pursuit turned out to be whitewater kayaking. She began paddling locally on the Saluda River and rivers in the Southeastern United States (e.g., Upper and Lower Green, French Broad Section 9, Pigeon, Nantahala, Ocoee). To add to her experience, Moore became certified in Swift Water Rescue and then a Certified Whitewater Kayaking Instructor through the American Canoe Association. 

“Whitewater kayaking is completely different from weight-lifting,” says Moore. “It’s a challenging adrenaline rush that pushes you to limits you never thought you could reach. On top of that, you get to go to places most people will never see.”

She describes traveling down parts of the North Carolina’s Green River where kayakers can look up to discover tiny waterfalls as they paddle by — many of which are inaccessible by road or trail. “It’s serene and it’s beautiful, and then there are the challenges of navigating the different classes of whitewater,” she adds. “When you get off the river, you feel a sense of exhilaration combined with complete relaxation. That feeling can last for days.” 

A couple years ago, Moore had the chance to combine her personal and professional interests a second time. She had been watching films of kayaking expeditions in remote locations and began asking herself questions about how the boaters were able to withstand the harsh environments. “What were they eating, how many calories were they were expending, what foods were they taking with them, what equipment and planning could help make these extended trips possible, and could this information also be beneficial to competitive world-class and Olympic kayakers?”

“We don’t know much about energy expenditure in whitewater kayaking,” Moore says. “Flat water kayaking has been studied, but I haven’t been able to find any studies on whitewater kayaking.”

The difficulties in studying this sport are many and varied. Moore invited several undergraduate students to join her, and they began their research project from scratch.

The team considered the challenges they were facing: water levels that reach flood stages from heavy rainfall, protecting the delicate equipment from getting submerged in the river or crushed by rocks, attaching the equipment to the kayaker in a way that it does not interfere with paddling motion or present a safety hazard, determining when the kayakers are actively moving, rolling, avoiding hazards, or taking breaks, especially when they are out of sight of the research team. 

They began by setting up the research lab, which included purchasing accelerometers and a specifically designed kayak ergometer. Together with exercise science majors Lindsey Peagler, a Magellan Scholar and Magellan Mini Grant recipient (currently attending the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Wingate University) and Halie Campbell, a Magellan Mini Grant recipient (currently attending the physician assistant program at LeMoyne College), Moore collected some preliminary data.

This past year, Moore worked with exercise science student Hannah Rubenstein, who received a Magellen Mini-Grant and Allison Krebs (biology), a Capstone Scholar who won a Magellan Apprentice Award. The team received Institutional Review Board approval for the ergometer study to examine the feasibility of using FitBits to measure energy expenditure in whitewater kayaking. Rubenstein and Krebs received training in using the Kayakpro ergometer and related research equipment, data collection, and data analysis. They presented the results of their work at Discover USC.

“Creating a new research project like the Whitewater Kayaking Study has been an incredibly dynamic process,” says Rubenstein, who graduated in May 2019 and is currently working at USC Sports Medicine as she prepares to apply for medical school. “Every time we get a new piece of equipment or perform a new trial, the entire trajectory of the study seems to change as we are continuously coming up with new questions and facing new challenges. We are often in uncharted territory and just a few months ago I never would have guessed that this seemingly straightforward project would lead us to investigate all of the new topics we have incorporated into our study.”

This year, Moore is working with exercise science students Amber Connor and Samantha Uliana and public health major McKenzie Parker. They will be working with experienced kayakers in the lab as they learn to use portable Cosmed indirect calorimetry devices to develop algorithms for accelerometers.  The hurdles of studying whitewater kayaking seem never ending but always exciting. . The group just submitted an application for a Magellan Mini grant to help with the newest expansion of the study.

For Moore, it’s the perfect balance of doing what she loves while contributing to the development of students as well as the field of exercise science. “You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re doing,” she says. “I never thought it would be whitewater kayaking, but here I am, pushing myself to safely navigate class 3 and 4 rapids, with the hopes of one day actually running a class 5.  I have come to love the challenges of each different river, just as I love the challenges of teaching.  Whitewater kayakers are a unique community of dedicated individuals who understand the hazards we face each time we are on the water. They are the first to cheer you on and the first to jump in the water after you if needed. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to combine research with my passion for whitewater.  I hope I can encourage students to find their own passion in life and make their dreams come true.”


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