Editorial Advisor and Legendary “Groundpounder” Melvin Williams Has Died

Running & FitNews® editorial board member Melvin Williams, PhD, succumbed to bone cancer in May, at the age of 78. He was a professor emeritus at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, VA, an international lecturer, founder of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and author of many books, including Nutrition for Health, Fitness & Sport.

Mel Williams relaxes with friends after a 2 1/2-mile
swim in Lake James, Virginia Beach in 2001.

Photo courtesy of Norm Shafer,
The Virginian-Pilot.

A former paratrooper in the U.S. military and ergogenics expert who characterized himself as blessed with good biomechanics, Mel had completed 112 marathons. He was a member of the Groundpounders, a running group now down to just three other people who have completed every Marine Corps Marathon since 1976. Health issues prevented him from finishing the 2014 race, though he had won his age group 18 times in that race and in the Boston Marathon at ages 51, 60 and 61.

Melvin Williams was born in 1937 in Kingston, Pennsylvania. He described the area at that time as something of a "hotbed for football and wrestling." As an offensive lineman, Mel was on the lighter side. His lifelong interest in ergogenics, essentially the study of sports performance enhancement, can quite possibly be traced to an early need to use every available tool to make up for lost pounds on the line of scrimmage. Then one day when Williams was preparing for a high school game, he observed his quarterback drinking whiskey, explaining that it made him play better. The incident stuck with the skeptical young Mel over the years; he would eventually write his doctoral thesis on the effects of alcohol on muscle strength and endurance.

Williams moved on to wrestling (where opponents are carefully matched by body weight). But he soon encountered a teammate whose premeet ritual included tea with honey. Everywhere he turned, it seemed, someone had a half-baked idea on how to enhance their athletic performance.

During his three years in the military stationed in Munich, Mel was next intrigued by an ex-football player he'd befriended who intended to study physical education when he got out. Williams had been in the medics as a paratrooper, and it all seemed to flow toward an interest in physiology, so he soon found himself studying physical education himself, at East Stroudsburg University in 1958. Mel played football there, and in 1961 when a teammate collapsed due to an overdose of amphetamines after a game—the best he'd ever played, according to Mel—Williams was permanently hooked on the budding field of ergogenics.

After earning his masters in Physical Education at Ohio University in Athens, Williams coached football and wrestling at the high school level in Reading, Pennsylvania. His desire to coach college-level athletics motivated him to earn his PhD, which he did in 1968, from the University of Maryland. He arrived at ODU in 1968, and promptly founded the Human Performance Laboratory and Wellness Institute.

You might say Mel's early interest in alcohol eventually led him to explore other substances. Amphetamine use by professional football players appeared to be widespread at the time, and an interested team physician for the Norfolk Neptunes, a local professional football team, agreed to help with a study. Soon Williams was researching the effects of other ergogenics, such as caffeine and blood doping, on athletic performance. In the 40 years since, he has explored everything from skin-tight swimwear to the effects of hypnosis on athletes.

If there's a guiding principle to Mel's major life pursuits, it is quite possibly the question "Why?" Williams’ voracious appetite for information and up-to-date research made him an extremely valuable asset to the Running & FitNews editorial board. He will be fondly remembered and greatly missed. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne Kruger-Williams, also an accomplished distance runner who has won her age group at the New York City Marathon and placed second in Boston.

AMAA Journal, Summer 2004, "Member Profile: Mel Williams, PhD: Over 100 marathons and counting," by Jeff Venables, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 20-21

The Virginian-Pilot, May 19, 2016, "Long-distance runner and ODU professor Mel Williams dies," by Harry Minium, http://pilotonline.com/sports/college/old-dominion/long-distance-runner-and-odu-professor-mel-williams-dies/article_759ac5b8-a673-5e3f-bfe0-2e6714b98261.html

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