When Rich Killingsworth, ’87, completed three years of active duty with the Army, he enrolled at Indiana State University and was determined to catch up with his high school classmates who had gone directly to college.
He “doubled up” on classes, taking as many as 24 credit hours per semester, and completed a bachelor’s degree in community health education in two years.
He hasn’t slowed down since.
An avid cyclist and hiker, Killingsworth has participated in the Miami and New York City marathons. A competitive wrestler in many levels, he placed first at the 1994 Missouri State Games, second at the 1999 Georgia Tech Invitational and third at the 2001 Georgia State Games. He served as a wrestling official at the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival and now volunteers helping wrestlers at the high school level.
He is just as passionate about health and fitness in his professional career, much of which has focused on encouraging community development practices that encourage a healthy lifestyle through walking, cycling and other forms of physical recreation.
While with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he served as lead health scientist for the first national effort to focus on increasing physical activity through community design. As national director of “Active Living by Design,” he guided a $16.5 million initiative at the University of North Carolina supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that served as a catalyst in changing national policy and practice in schools, parks, community design and transportation.
Designing communities that allow people to have fun is a fundamental variable of making sure people follow their physical fitness regimen, he said.
“The concept of the built environment that I promoted resonated very powerfully,” he said. “Kids are genetically hard-wired to just have fun, yet this generation of children is probably … the least active of any prior generation that we’ve studied. It’s the idea of how do we get them out having fun, doing what kids do best, being active in the outdoor environment and just having spontaneous recreation and, as a result, having better health outcomes.”
During a 10-year period with the CDC and Active Living by Design, Killingsworth served as an advisor on more than 300 community projects. He presented at more than 100 conferences, authored more than 30 publications and testified before Congress on livable community issues. He has also provided technical assistance to federal agencies, national organizations, municipalities and elected officials that have helped shape national policy.
Killingsworth recently completed a two-year appointment as the first executive director of the National Foundation on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, an entity created by Congress in 2010 to serve the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, formerly the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Launched by Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, the council existed for 57 years without the capacity to raise funds to support its mission. The foundation now serves that role, thanks to Killingsworth’s work in getting it up and running and putting in place funding partnerships with private business.
“Right now, they are at the point of beginning to receive those funds and to identify the alignment with the mutual purpose of what those corporations have been supporting historically, how that aligns with the foundation and its mission of serving the council,” he said.
Killingsworth said the council’s brand, which incorporates the presidential seal, is the most recognized seal of any federal agency and the council has the highest favorability rating of any agency.
Now, as chief of health promotion and disease prevention for the Delaware Division of Public Health, he leads a staff of more than 70 full-time professionals, manages an annual budget of more than $30 million and is responsible for three dozen programs addressing such issues as physical activity, nutrition, tobacco, diabetes and heart disease.
“It’s the full gamut of the traditional public health focus. How do we make the First State the healthiest state?” he said.
One way, Killingsworth said, is to promote active living by way of an ambitious trails and bikeways initiative designed to connect each of Delaware’s 56 communities.
He was pleased to learn of Indiana State’s involvement with Terre Haute’s segment of the National Road Heritage Trail, a 47-mile, rails-to-trail project that covers parts of seven Indiana counties.
Killingsworth said biking and hiking trails, together with other efforts designed to creative more active community environments, not only promote active lifestyles but can also serve as a form of economic tourism.
“Many health interventions are difficult to translate into different settings or different populations – or even different time periods. They just don’t work well,” he said. “This one has true application across all of that – space and time. The better designed an environment is, people have an almost automatic response to that environment. Their body picks up those cues to action and it does very good things.”
The Philadelphia-based Cadence Cycling Foundation recently honored Killngsworth with its Jamie Maguire Award in recognition of his commitment to helping youth develop a healthy lifestyle and providing a platform for youth to develop self-confidence, self-awareness, integrity and character.
Killingsworth is concerned that “sport has changed the culture of our society, good and bad.”
In addition to promoting community designs that promote active lifestyles, he has become just as vocal in drawing attention to how sports have become overly competitive and have minimized other social attributes that could enhance the culture of communities, especially for children.
“It’s becoming much more specialized and refined and has contributed to kids just checking out of sports entirely,” he said. “It has become a personal passion of mine to pursue research and advocacy in that area and change the culture of how we view sports in society and how we participate in it.”
A Hammond native, Killingsworth said he chose to attend Indiana State because it was not too far from his hometown, provided the academic interest he was pursuing and had small classes.
“Students had a good experience with faculty mentoring them about the possibilities of what their future would look like. The faculty had true, genuine concern for their students,” he said.
Killingsworth cited Portia Plummer, professor emerita of health and safety, for getting him to focus on his career and prepare for graduate school at Indiana University, where he earned a master’s degree in public health education.
“I’m proud as a peacock,” Plummer said of Killingsworth and his career. “I knew that he was going to do well. Any time a student goes on to get another degree and then you see them going up the ladder as Rich has that is my reward. I’d like to feel that I had a great part in assisting students. With Rich, it didn’t take much encouragement on my part. He would have succeeded and done exactly what he’s doing but it makes me feel sort of like proud parent.”
Though disappointed that Indiana State dropped his beloved wrestling program as a competitive sport during his first year as a student, Killingsworth took the action in stride and continues to hold the university in high esteem.
“Kids that really need direction in their lives need institutions such as Indiana State, where they have the faculty to help guide them over those critical years of their formation,” he said. “It paid huge dividends for me, particular getting into the graduate program at IU with a full scholarship. Since leaving Indiana State, my professional and academic career has been a blessing. Every job I’ve had has been a very high level, supervisory management job and I attribute much of that success to my experiences at ISU.
“My time at Indiana State has been a wonderful memory and something I still want to stay connected to and make contributions toward. I really believe in the institution, what it’s doing, where it’s going, and I will always be proud of my alma mater.”
Dave Taylor is the director of media relations at Indiana State. A job well done makes Dave happy.