Preparing for the race and beyond

Monday, December 31, 2012

The basement of Halenbeck Hall is home to the Human Performance Lab, a space overfilled with exercise test equipment and health screening stations. The warren of windowless rooms is affectionately referred to as “the dungeon” by graduates who fondly remember the worn furnishings and warm collegial atmosphere of the lab.

For four decades, the Human Performance Lab has offered specialized testing for St. Cloud State athletes seeking to maximize their physical performance. Aerobic capacity and lactate threshold tests are among the services provided gratis to student athletes. The lab is also open to the community and regularly works with individuals to provide wellness evaluations for nominal fees.

Off campus, the lab routinely works with local employers, offering training sessions on workplace wellness issues. Lab faculty members assist K-12 and college instructors in integrating health and sports science experiences into their classrooms. And the lab welcomes opportunities to participate in local health fairs.

By promoting common sense fitness concepts in a variety of settings, the HPL is helping the community embrace better health choices.

Curtis Ghylin ’77, an MBA graduate of St. Cloud State, has been a participant in the Human Performance Lab since the early 1970s.

“I find the testing and the advice that the people at the Human Performance Lab — students and staff — give me is very valuable to my conditioning,” Ghylin said.

A long distance runner, the 74-year-old returns to the lab each fall.

Ghylin worked in the University’s computer center from 1975-2003 and used the lab along with Halenbeck Hall’s facilities to keep active during long days at the office. “The Human Performance Lab, and the fact that Halenbeck Hall was available at noon hour for use, allowed me to stay in shape, even though my work sometimes consisted of long hours at the desk and very little physical movement,” Ghylin said.

The lab’s adult fitness program is designed to improve health behaviors. Evaluations can include a nutrition consult, flexibility and core strength assessments, and other health monitoring tests. As a package, the fitness assessment and diet and exercise prescriptions provide participants with a starting point for better health.

“We used to call people involved in the program ‘Kelly’s heroes,’” said Glenn Street ’79 ’83, professor of kinesiology with 25 years of Human Performance Lab experience. The reference to lab founder Jack Kelly and the 1970 ragtag war film, “Kelly’s Heroes,” captured the spirit of lab participants who sought out health advice in an unconventional setting.

The lab also serves as a place to advance scholarship and engineer new equipment within the fields of biomechanics and exercise physiology. Near an exercise treadmill, a bookcase holds a row of bound volumes of program graduates’ master’s theses. The hardcovers attest to decades of hands-on research performed within the lab. In 1983 as he was working on his master’s degree, Street developed a flywheel ergometer to measure the upper body power of U.S. Olympic skiers. Street holds three patents on product designs that were tested and refined within the lab setting.

Research is ongoing at the lab. Currently underway is a graduate thesis study on exercise-induced asthma. While gathering data, the HPL is conducting tests of student athletes to uncover the condition and counsel individuals on how to minimize effects while exercising. Street emphasizes the lab’s commitment to helping participants live healthier lives. Many who utilize the lab as students continue to seek out its services after graduation.

“The adult fitness program has really touched a lot of people’s lives here in the community,” Street said. “We have some people in their 70s and 80s who are still coming for check-ups. It’s an individualized service they really appreciate.”

Graduates of the program have gone on to careers in medicine, research, teaching and fitness coaching. Andrew Gray ’08, a former Human Performance Lab graduate assistant, is now senior human relations coordinator and corporate fitness specialist at Capital One in St. Cloud. Gray gained practical experience by conducting stress tests with exercise science equipment. He also learned valuable lessons on the importance of motivation as a determining factor in fitness.

“Apart from the lab education, the most important part was the personal interaction — the one-on-one,” Gray said. “For me that was the greatest takeaway: learning not to push too hard.”

Bruce Johnson ’83, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, was an early graduate of the Human Performance Lab’s evolving program in exercise science. “The program was outstanding,” Johnson said. “It opened many doors going forward.”

After earning his graduate degree, he worked for the Department of Defense in altitude physiology. He later earned a PhD, which led to a clinical role at Mayo Clinic, where he now runs the Human Integrative and Environmental Physiology Laboratory. The position allows him to chase science and question accepted dogma, he said, as he gains insights into the body’s response to hypoxia, high altitude and exercise in a variety of rugged settings.

A recent expedition funded by the National Science Foundation gave Johnson the opportunity to gather data on altitude sickness at the South Pole Station. Because the station is situated atop nearly two miles of ice, it provides a unique setting to study the effects of high altitude exposure.

In April, Johnson led a team of scientists, staffers and expedition sponsors to Nepal, home to the world’s highest mountain peaks. Johnson set up a clinical laboratory at Mount Everest’s base camp and monitored participants’ heart rates. His fieldwork could eventually benefit patients with heart and lung diseases.

Johnson calls his adventures “an interesting path” and plans upcoming research trips to Bolivia and the North Pole.

- Char Hopela 87

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