Going for Gold: Florida Gymnast Balances Olympic Training with Earning UF Degree

Hana Starkman Student Story

Few people experience the pressures of being selected to represent their country in the Olympic Games, but that is exactly what University of Florida student Hana Starkman has been training for since she was five years old. Hana is earning her bachelor’s degree in health education via UF Online while training alongside Team USA’s National Rhythmic Group for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.

“I want to really enjoy these experiences to the fullest when competing internationally and representing the country. The Olympics is that final and most prestigious event.”


Health education, much like the sport of gymnastics, interested Hana from a young age. “I’m an athlete, so I’m always surrounded by the subject. We have a lot of physical therapy sessions where we’re always learning new things. I always found it interesting because it benefited me and my teammates,” said Hana when describing her draw to the subject. She also credits her family in helping her discover her academic direction. “I have younger siblings, so I have a natural passion for caring for the people around me.”

A coveted career in the world of professional sports is timely due to the prolonged physical demands. As such, Hana decided to simultaneously pursue her bachelor’s degree in a subject related to her career while training for Paris 2024. UF Online’s flexibility ensured that Hana could earn her UF degree after moving from Miami, Florida to train in Deerfield, Illinois.

Time management became an important academic aspect to Hana while training at least 3 hours a day throughout her middle and high school years. “Sometimes I’ll make a plan for an assignment, but things come up and it gets challenging. I try to stay as organized as possible. Being able to have a schedule for when I need to complete my school assignments just like I do for training allows me to spread my work throughout the week,” said Hana.

“When I was accepted to UF, it was really satisfying. It’s one of the best online programs because there’s really no difference between attending in-person or online once you’ve earned your degree.”


Unlike artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics is a women-only event in the Olympics. Athletes perform a choreographed routine with an apparatus -- a rope, hoop, ball, ribbon, or clubs -- in both individual and group categories. To qualify for Paris 2024, Hana and her teammates will first travel to compete against other teams in places like Brazil, Estonia, and Greece. “My goal is to get there. Not just for myself, but for the country, and to improve our reputation as a rhythmic gymnastics team. That’s part of what I want to accomplish in going to the Olympics,” said Hana when asked what qualifying and competing in the Olympics would mean to her.

Rhythmic gymnastics emphasizes hand-eye coordination, flexibility, and grace, and does not utilize bars or beams. Traveling is a familiar concept to Hana, as her athletic career has already taken her to Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Romania, Russia, and Spain. With such a busy schedule, a university that allows for remote learning was a benefit Hana took into consideration when choosing UF Online over other degree programs. “The University of Miami was an option, but they would have required me to attend in-person. Attending school locally wouldn’t have worked because I train anywhere between 5-8 hours a day, sometimes twice a day, at least 5 days a week,” explained Hana.

Flexibility has always been a big part of Hana’s life both professionally and academically. “They probably don’t remember, but ever since the twins were born I was already doing gymnastics,” said Hana when referring to her younger brothers. When describing how she earned her spot on Team USA, Hana explained “I took time off for my freshman year of high school, and it was probably the best decision I ever made. I was able to spend more time with my family. I knew I wanted to go back to gymnastics, and I did, but this time as a group gymnast. That was how I discovered the open call to see if I could earn a spot on the national team.”

“If you know what you’d like to pursue with your degree, and you understand how it can lead to a lot of different paths and opportunities, I definitely recommend going for it. It requires a lot of self-discipline and dedication, but it’s something worth going for.”


As she continues her Olympic training, Hana remains confident in both her team and her online degree program. When asked what earning her degree in health education would mean to her, Hana said “It would definitely help me stay connected to my passions, just in a different way. I know I can’t be a rhythmic gymnast forever, so whatever I decide to do specifically, I know that a degree will help me stay involved in the community and essentially just help improve any problems that gymnasts or other athletes face.”

Whether retirement is on the near horizon for Hana has yet to be decided. “It’s not definite for me to retire after Paris. The 2028 Summer Olympics are being held in Los Angeles, so Team USA is guaranteed a spot to compete. I’d just have to weigh whether or not that’s enough for me to stay, because the sport requires a lot of flexibility,” said Hana.

UF Online and the University of Florida will continue to cheer Hana on as she strives for gold while earning her bachelor’s degree. Stories like hers allow our program to display incredible examples of students earning a degree of distinction while utilizing unmatched flexibility in higher education and professional goals. We proudly wear our red, white, orange and blue in support of Hana as a Gator, and a member of Team USA!


In line with promoting and evolving healthy lifestyle choices, UF’s Health Education degree is offered by the College of Health and Human Performance. Advocating for a healthier community, our program enables students to evaluate individual and group settings with special attention to diversity and culturally appropriate health methodologies. Learn more about UF Online’s Health Education degree by visiting the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.