Our Stories

Running Toward Answers

Many students are looking for the beach this summer, but Daniel Yaeger '08 is looking for people who will ride a stationary bike as hard as humanly possible for 45 minutes. Repeatedly. For no compensation.

Yaeger is continuing an exploration that began in high school. Poor coordination, caused by neuromotor dyspraxia, left him with an aversion to sports, but when he entered high school, he decided to prove himself as an athlete. "I gravitated toward cross-country because I felt that running depended more on persistence and dedication than an inherent gift," he says. "In my first cross-country race, I finished at the back of the pack."

Hoping to make the varsity team, Yaeger pored over the writings of sports trainers, looking for pointers. "I was a naturally ungifted runner," he says. "After three years of lonely lactate-threshold workouts and hill sprints, I lowered my personal best by seven minutes."

Feeling that he had maxed out on his physical potential for racing, Yaeger left the track for the lab to find how athletes can reach their own personal best -- and discovered his best. This year, the exercise science major was named 2007 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow by the American Physiological Society.

Yaeger is working with mentor and exercise science Professor "Stas" Stavrianeas to identify how athletes and coaches (and middle-aged men and just about anyone) can determine precise maximum lactate thresholds -- in other words, how they can train at the upper limit of their physical capacity and reach their highest potential, without overdoing it. "If athletes under-train or over-train, their performance will suffer," Yaeger says.

No one has yet devised a method to hone in on precise training prescriptions, according to Yaeger and Stavrianeas. They will increase their sample size this summer to arrive at more definitive conclusions, but they shared their preliminary findings at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Northwest American College of Sports Medicine in New Orleans.

"Stas is creative and insightful -- and rigorous," Yaeger says. "He pushes you to ask questions you can't answer. But after lab sessions, he'll buy you coffee and talk about life."

Yaeger's life took a new direction after a Study Abroad semester in Spain and North Africa. "In North Africa I saw dangerously malnourished children and beggars born without arms," he says. "I thought of my own mother, a single parent who has been disabled from spinal injuries and fibromyalgia since I was young." He signed on for a ninth semester at Willamette and loaded up on science courses he had missed, hoping for acceptance into a biomedical research graduate program. Having seen the toll of chronic pain and disability up close, Yaeger is hoping to use his career to help ease human physical suffering. He is especially interested in exploring the causes of cardiovascular disease. "Cardiovascular hypertension isn't well understood," he says, "but one in three Americans will die of heart problems."

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in riding till they can't ride any more, in a breathing mask, for zero compensation, call Dan Yaeger. He would love to hook you up.