Dr. Markova: How Her Passion for P.E. Led Her From a PhD to the Paralympics

A profile on Dr. Markova, a physical education teacher here at Stuyvesant.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Ibtida Khurshed

Take a right off the fifth-floor escalator and head to the end of the hall, and you’ll find Physical Education teacher and girls’ bowling coach Dr. Anna Markova. Dr. Markova currently teaches general physical education and Indoor Cycling, an elective available to juniors and seniors. However, her path to becoming an educator wasn’t always clear-cut—she worked in numerous other professions before becoming a teacher. 

Dr. Markova discovered her passion for physical education after realizing the subject combined her interests in fitness and science. “I originally wanted to be a lawyer, but I became a teacher because I liked physical education, sports, and biology, and I thought [that] it [was] a perfect combination,” Dr. Markova explained. 

Dr. Markova was born in Slovakia and attended college there as well. The Slovakian educational system requires teachers to get a degree in two subjects, causing Dr. Markova to obtain degrees in physical education and biology. She also has a PhD, which she got soon after finishing her masters degree. Dr. Markova decided to go through the process of obtaining a PhD due to her initial desire to become a university professor and her thirst for knowledge. “[I was] striving for more knowledge,” Dr. Markova remarked.

However, she didn’t let the academic workload of obtaining a PhD deter her from gaining real-life work experience: “Because my research and thesis of my PhD was related to sports for people with disabilities, I wanted to get as much practical experience as possible,” Dr. Markova explained. This is why even while obtaining her PhD, Dr. Markova took on a job teaching children with disabilities at the middle and high school level and simultaneously conducted research on an after-school sports program meant to improve the social skills of children with disabilities. 

Dr. Markova’s passion for teaching sports wasn’t just limited to teaching students—she taught aspiring teachers too: “After five years of my PhD, I also traveled to study abroad in Belgium, Sweden, and Croatia. I succeeded [in becoming] an assistant professor at my alma mater Comenius University in Bratislava, and upon arrival here I was [an] adjunct professor at two universities here in New York,” she recounted. During this era of her career, Markova taught adaptive physical education to aspiring physical education teachers. Her lessons were focused on how to cater sports curricula to people with disabilities. 

Dr. Markova also volunteered at Camp Abilities in Brockport while working on her PhD: “It is a one-week educational sports camp for children and teens who are blind, visually impaired, and deafblind. I was teaching swimming there,” Dr. Markova said. She continued her volunteer work for four years straight and recounts her memories there fondly. “It was [an] amazing experience for me,” she said wistfully. 

Dr. Markova extended the scope of her teaching to the Slovak Paralympic Committee, where she worked as a protocol and events manager. Her work involved organizing sports like tennis, powerlifting, and table tennis for paralympic athletes, many of whom were the same paralympic athletes she once coached in her after-school program. One such athlete, Veronica Vadivikova, is a Paralympic gold medalist who is still active today. Dr. Markova also utilized her skills as a polyglot to translate for the Paralympic committee during multiple international conferences, a job she was able to secure partially due to the help of her PhD mentor and partially due to her large range of languages. 

Dr. Markova ultimately halted her career in the Paralympic Committee to pursue a new opportunity: teaching in New York City. “[Eventually,] I was supposed to go to the Paralympic Games in 2004 in Athens with the Slovak Paralympic team, but I accepted a job to teach in one of the New York City schools. I could not be in two places at the same time,” Dr. Markova remarked.

Here at Stuyvesant, Markova has been able to use her extensive knowledge of the pedagogy of physical education, as well as her experience teaching professional athletes, to encourage students to reach their athletic potential. “Working with professional Paralympians taught me that if you really want it, you can get it and succeed. They were not blaming their disability. They were not afraid to fail. They always got up and were trying, [...] so all of that I try to use in teaching here in Stuyvesant. Keep trying and never give up on yourself and others,” Dr. Markova stated. She further explained that her experience teaching visually impaired children how to swim taught her the value of building a trusting relationship with her students and setting high expectations for them: “They trusted us and believed in their and our abilities. And I can tell you that all children learn how to swim at the end of that week because we were giving them constant feedback and [had] high expectations for them,” Dr. Markova explained.

Recently, Dr. Markova came back from a sabbatical, which she spent studying nutrition. She chose to study nutrition due to its close ties to physical education. “There is very close contact between [physical exercise] or sports and nutrition. […] You cannot change anything without adapting the other,” Dr. Markova reflected. She has been able to utilize her knowledge in this area since returning to Stuyvesant by informing and advising her students on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle: “I try to promote prevention as the best way to stay healthy and happy, which basically means to have a healthy lifestyle. Related to a healthy lifestyle is being physically active and [having] proper nutrition,” Dr. Markova clarified. She hopes that Stuyvesant can offer a specialized course on the matter in the future: “We were also hoping in our Health and Physical Education Department to offer Sports Nutrition class as [an] elective in [the] close future,” she stated.

Despite her time away, however, Stuyvesant still feels the same to her: “I feel like I never left. […] Nothing changed, to be honest with you,” she said.

Dr. Markova has had quite an extensive career, not just in a plethora of different jobs, but in a plethora of different places too. From coaching future Paralympians to teaching Stuyvesant students, there’s no doubt that she has a great passion for athletics. Her eagerness to learn about every subtopic in her field has earned her expertise in biology, nutrition, adaptive physical education, and more, making her a jack of all trades.