Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Jack Wilmore an Appreciation

My teacher, colleague and friend Jack Wilmore died last weekend at the age of 76.   He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years Dottie, their three daughters and families.


After graduating in the middle 1960s with his Ph.D. from Oregon, Jack taught at Ithaca College, Cal, UC Davis, Arizona, Texas, and Texas A&M. He was named Distinguished Professor at both Texas and Texas A&M. Given the rivalry (hatred?) between The University of Texas and Texas A&M, I wonder if anyone else has ever held such high academic rank at both places.


I was lucky enough to work in Jack’s exercise physiology lab at the University of Arizona as an undergrad and medical student from the late 70s through the middle 80s. While there are a million stories to tell, I think there is a three-fold “bigger narrative” about what Jack Wilmore accomplished and left for us all.


The Emergence of Exercise Science

The first part of the narrative is about how Jack and a few key colleagues around the country and world realized that physical education as known in the 1950s and 60s had to become more scientific and more intellectually rigorous. This led to a real flowering of what we now call Exercise Science or Kinesiology at essentially all of the big research universities and other academic institutions in North America, and the developed world.   This flowering led to the development of majors in related fields that have grown tremendously over the last 20-30 years. On many campuses these major are now among the most popular science majors. They are also key “pipeline” majors for undergrads interested in graduate or professional training in a number of health related fields. Very few people can say they participated in the broad based re-engineering of higher education on a worldwide basis; Jack Wilmore was a major player in this movement.


The Cutting Edge of Research

Jack was also at the forefront of a number of exercise related research themes starting in the 1960s. A short list includes:

  • A number of pioneering studies and books on body composition that among other things anticipated the “obesity epidemic” by several decades.
  • Early studies on female athletes.
  • Major contributions on topics related to adult fitness and cardiac rehab. Like the story for body composition and obesity, these contributions were several decades ahead of the current concerns about the health consequence of physical inactivity on the population as a whole.
  • The pioneering development of semi-automated and automated “metabolic carts” to measure oxygen consumption.   This really was the first wave of innovation in this area and again Jack anticipated what came decades later with the automated commercial systems that are used all over the world today.
  • Physiology studies that included topics like human performance, thermoregulation, the physiology of maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max), and the lactate threshold.
  • The genetics of training adaptations.


The other interesting thing is that Dr. Wilmore was a superb classroom teacher. You hear a lot about faculty at big universities being buried in the lab and uninterested or ineffective at undergraduate teaching.   Jack was the best classroom teacher I had as an undergrad. He was organized, engaged, and able to really transmit his interest and expertise to students.


All of his scientific and educational achievement was accomplished with an eye toward collaboration and what could be learned from others. Jack’s collaborative spirit brings me to the third element of the three-fold narrative.


Jack the Good Guy!

Over the last couple of days I have received all sorts of anecdotes about something helpful Jack did for someone. Things like a thoughtful and supportive question to a student at a conference, or a key letter for a younger colleague as they climbed the academic ranks. The comments from his many collaborators focus on his generosity and ability to put his ego aside while looking for solutions vs. having his way.


In Tucson, Jack had a sign on his desk that said “don’t let the urgent crowd out the important”.   When you combine that maxim with his ability to channel vs. suppress the energy of young people, his availability, and his ability to frame almost anything in a positive context you can see in retrospect how it all came together. Thus, there is a long, long list of people who benefited from and loved working with Dr. Wilmore. Nobody ever worked for him.


At the end of VO2 max tests on highly trained athletes, Jack had a knack for drifting out of his nearby office to the treadmill lab. As the test reached a climax with the runner going all out he would encourage us with a “beautiful job” just at the point of exhaustion. It was something we all wanted to hear but we never got to say it to him.


Beautiful job, Jack!…….



15 Responses to “Jack Wilmore an Appreciation”

  1. November 18th, 2014 at 5:57 am

    Matt Hickey says:

    Dear Mike-

    What a warm and wonderful tribute! Thank you so much for sharing. Jack was a model of grace, wisdom, and generosity of spirit. Beautiful job indeed!



  2. November 18th, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Mike Sawka says:

    Dr. Wilmore was a model professor / scientist and was an inspiration and hero to many professionals of my age. Aside from his important academic contributions, he was an extremely humble and inspirational person. He will be missed by all and his legacy will last for many generations. My deepest sympathy for his family.

  3. November 18th, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Daniel Umpierre says:

    Dr. Joyner,
    It is a very warm piece about how life, career, personality and success can all match naturally and humbly in someone. Due to Jack´s books, he is very known in my country (Brazil). But this kind of personal details really give a different flavor (even better) to the name and legacy of Dr. Jack Wilmore.

    Wishing the family, colleagues and friends peace as everyone grieve this loss.
    Congrats for your tribute, Daniel

  4. November 18th, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Phil Sparling says:

    Mike, a fine tribute to Jack. He was and remains the model for so many of us. I’ll always remember him as a careful researcher, excellent scholar, an inspiring speaker and teacher, and a warm and caring person. Truly a wonderful human being. We’ll all miss him but never forget him. — Phil

  5. November 18th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Marc Rogers says:

    How sad it is for us here on this earthly rock when a giant of a human being like Dr. Wilmore moves on to the next life. I was a doctoral student in exercise physiology at the University of Minnesota in the early 1980’s and Dr. Wilmore came to Minneapolis en route to giving a keynote lecture at the Northland Regional Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Wisconsin. Jack and his good friend Dr. Bob Serfass were driving up to the meeting and I was one of a lucky 2-3 grad students given the opportunity to ride along. What an inspiring trip, it was full of lab stories and research findings and alot of insight into the burgeoning world of our discipline. I remember them talking about some kind of bra-exercise study that Dr. Serfass teased him about. Sprinkled in were some stories related to Dr. Wilmore’s strong Christian beliefs and his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I had met science giants while at Minnesota, Dr. Ancel Keys, Dr. Henry Longstreet Taylor, Dr. Henry Blackburn, and Dr. Arthur Leon, but none more approachable, kind, and interested in others as Dr. Wilmore.
    Fear not folks, this great man is now in a place that he knows quite well.

  6. November 19th, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Jim Hagberg says:

    One of our giants has passed – godspeed Jack. And THANKS for everything you did for me, for the field, for your family, and the world.

    It truly was “BEAUTIFUL JOB”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. November 20th, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Allen Jackson says:

    A super professional and fine person, the world has lost a valuable part of the puzzle of life.

  8. November 20th, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Andrew Jackson says:

    Jack was a true gentleman and a scholar

  9. November 20th, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Kelli Selman says:

    I am honored to work for the Huffines Institute in the Dept. of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M that Dr. Wilmore was the first director of. I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Wilmore over the phone May 2013. I’ll always remember how genuine and nice that man was. He truly cared about the well-being and health of others.

    I’ll cherish his Ex Phys text book I purchased (but never could bring myself to selling it back even as a poor college kid) as an undergrad. I understand that without him, the world of Health and Kinesiology would not be where it is today. Rest in peace.

  10. November 21st, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Beau Freund says:

    Beautiful Job, Mike!

    What a great tribute to such an incredible man. If one could even begin to emulate some of the many qualities Jack displayed every day, he/she could hardly go wrong. Kind, gentle, caring, teacher, coach, friend. What a great man, indeed!

    Oh Mike, the stories we could tell.


  11. November 24th, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Charles M. Tipton says:

    I have delayed paying tribute to Jack Wilmore because I
    wanted to reflect on the significance of his contributions
    after commending Mike Joyner for his outstanding and dedicated efforts to inform the exercise community of the saga of Jack’s illness and demise, and after extending
    sympathy and condolences to Dottie Wilmore and their family.
    The Wilmore family has experienced an emotional ordeal with Jack’s illness that only a family with strong Christian beliefs could survive
    I am not sure what a giant in Exercise Science means; but,I know Jack Wilmore was a scientific force! His productivity was more than impressive while his papers and books will have a long lasting effect on future generations of exercise scientists. However, his most lasting effect
    will be his personal influence on others. As mentioned by
    others listed above, he was the most caring, personable, sensitive exercise scientist one could meet, one who showed
    interest in you and made you feel as if you were his
    most important friend.
    Yes, Jack Wilmore will be missed by the exercise science

  12. December 21st, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    mike Wade says:

    sad loss to the field but a significant legacy.

  13. January 26th, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Eric Durak says:


    Many thanks for your tribute. I remember Jack from the 1980s when we was a consultant to the Sports Training Institute in NYC. He would hold small in-services for staff members to keep them fresh with some of the new research in the field as it pertained to exercise science. He would always give a warm hello at ACSM meetings. Since I just found out about his passing – I am remembering Dr. Steve Horvath and Ernie Michaels here at UCSB – who he studied with when he was here. We are fast loosing our second generation of exercise scientists – and we hope that those who have trained under his guidance share the love of the profession – and continue to teach the importance of exercise and health to future generations of students.

  14. May 5th, 2015 at 11:35 am

    David Ianuzzo says:

    Thank you for the tribute to Jack Wilmore. I knew Jack mainly as a mature Christian person and had great respect for him. My condolences to his family. He is in a place he was looking forward to being.

  15. May 25th, 2016 at 2:25 am

    John Anglim says:

    Dear Mike,
    I was fortunate to be a postgrad student in the early 80s when Jack came to the University of Western Australia to give a course on cardiac physiology.
    He was a hugely popular lecturer. I still remember him starting with a slide show about Christmas in Arizona, and the decorations on the cacti. (We later tried to undermine him by inserting a slide saying “Jack Wilmore drinks and smokes” into one of cardiac rehab presentations.)
    He had us nominate a “secretary” for each lecture, and it was their job to record any questions he could not answer. He would then research the topic – he said that was one of his strategies to never stop learning, and his modesty and commitment to learning were contagious.
    I just learned about his death, but I am glad to have known him, and thinking about him rekindles my enthusiasm to keep learning.
    Thank you for your words and those of all the others who responded.

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