Dean Humphrey inspires students to get fit with 5K run

By Sean Corrado Staff Writer

Pitt’s Dean of Students and Vice Provost Kathy Humphrey agreed to trade in her trademark skirt suit for a T-shirt and a pair of running shoes to participate in a 5K run this Saturday, but her preparation to reach the finish line has been anything but easy.

“I had no idea what I was saying yes to,” Humphrey said. “I am doing something way outside my comfort zone.”

In an effort to raise awareness for the Healthy U initiative, Humphrey will participate in the ZooZilla 5K Run/Walk on Saturday morning at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. She wants her presence at the race to inspire students to live a healthy life now and to develop healthy habits for the future. Healthy U is a sector of Pitt’s Student Affairs Department that focuses on helping students “maintain more than just optimal physical and emotional health.”

Senior Julie Hallinan, a member of Pitt’s Student Government Board and of the Healthy U 5K Committee, looked for someone on campus to engage students and get them excited to take part in the 5K that Pitt now sponsors. She thought to herself, “who would be a better role model than the dean of students?”

Originally, Humphrey said she thought that Hallinan wanted her to attend the event and cheer on students at the finish line. But when the directors at a staff meeting convinced her that running would get students excited about the race, she wasn’t in a position to say no.

According to Hallinan, Humphrey’s promise to run inspired many students to join the 5K on the hilly terrain of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

“She’s definitely made an impact,” Hallinan said. “Many students have been motivated to get out there and do something fun and healthy as a community.”

Along with Humphrey, more than 100 Pitt students are registered to race at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.

But working toward this day has proved no easy task for Humphrey. Humphrey has not previously found success in athletics, and she admitted that her worst grades in school from kindergarten on were in physical education.

Nevertheless, Humphrey made a promise to Hallinan and the 5K committee to run in the event, and she is not one to break promises.

Starting in early October, Humphrey trained with John Schneider, Pitt’s coordinator of outdoor recreation, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning before work. Schneider developed a workout regimen that included cardio training, weight lifting and core strengthening.

“I didn’t even know what a core was,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey also had no idea what she was in for on her first day of training. Schneider started her off easy with some interval training. She had to repeatedly run for a minute and then walk for a minute. This would be a relatively simple task for an athlete, but for someone who does not enjoy running, it would hit very hard.

“I thought like I was going to die,” Humphrey said. “I am one of those people who wants to stop running the second I feel pain.”

She realized she had much more work to do to be physically prepared for the 5K. The beginning was a struggle, but she used her students as her motivation to improve.

“I was convinced I would be a good model for those students who are not physically active,” said Humphrey, who did not miss a single training workout session.

Things began to get even worse when Humphrey injured her knee during a workout, so Schneider altered the program to allow Humphrey’s knee to heal faster and prevent her from re-injuring it.

Humphrey trained off her knee for a little bit by working on the rowing machine to continue cardio training.

As her knee gradually became stronger, so did Humphrey.

On the sunny Friday morning of homecoming weekend, Humphrey accomplished something she has never done in her life. She ran 22 minutes without stopping.

“It’s extraordinary,” Humphrey said. “The stronger you get, the less pain you feel.”

That was the turning point of her training. Humphrey felt proud of how far she pushed herself through all the pain and physical limitations she previously experienced.

Shawn Ahearn, Pitt’s Student Affairs office’s director of communications, has run with Humphrey. He sees parallels between her work ethics in running shoes and dress shoes.

“She is always pushing her students to go beyond their limits,” Ahearn said. “Now, she is going beyond her own.”

Humphrey is now confident that she will finish the race. She has crafted a strategy to work around the hilly course. If she runs all the straightaways well, she can walk the hills to avoid the added work against the incline.

Her trainer said he sees the progress that she has made since that dreadful first day of training.

“She’s come so far. She is like a totally different person now,” Schneider said. “With her determination, she will be successful.”

And according to Humphrey, this might not be her final event. Although she is not making any promises just yet, Humphrey said that she is considering running a Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day.

She wants to push her limits once again and support the Healthy U initiative. By Thanksgiving, Humphrey said she wants to be able to run an entire race.

“Students find her admirable,” Schneider said. “Maybe this will encourage people to get out there and push themselves.”