WMC professor warms to research on exercise in severely cold climates Case studied 16 volunteers in Antarctica, ran 100 miles in marathon in Alaska

April 13, 1997|By Jennifer Vick | Jennifer Vick,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Spring fever may hit hard this semester for Sam Case, a Western Maryland College professor who recently returned from sabbatical pursuing scientific research in frozen climates.

Case, back at home in Westminster, is studying data he collected during a January trek to Antarctica, where he was a member of a research team studying human subjects in the extreme cold.

In February, he traveled northwest to Alaska, where he ran 100 miles in the Iditasport ultramarathon and compiled data on the nutritional aspects of cold-weather athletics.

"I think in my next life I'm going to study warm environment," said Case, a professor of physical education and exercise science.

Case traveled to Antarctica with a team that included physiologists, endocrinologists and psychologists. They are working on a four-year project to study people who develop symptoms and hormonal changes called Polar T3 Syndrome. The symptoms often appear in individuals who live and work in Antarctica longer than four or five months.

"I feel incredibly lucky to have been chosen as a part of that research team," Case said of the project, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Reaching Antarctica after 27 hours on planes, Case and the other team members went to work drawing blood and administering cognitive and exercise tests on the 16 volunteers.

"Most [of the participants] are Navy personnel," Case said, noting that the subjects will be in Antarctica until August to have their levels of thyroxine hormone measured.

People with Polar T3 Syndrome are described as having a loss of energy and frequent mood disorders. The study is in its second year.

While North America is in its winter months, Antarctica's population of 950 experiences 24 hours of summer sunshine daily. Case lived in a dormitory and worked in a Recompression Chamber Facility.

"I thought e-mail was going to be my only form of communication," said Case, who was surprised to find his dormitory room was equipped with a phone. He frequently telephoned his daughter and e-mailed WMC students.

With only a week and a half to thaw from his first arctic trek, Case was off and running, figuratively and literally, on his second.

With the help of WMC student Byron Druzgal, 21, of Severna Park, Case gathered data on the nutritional aspects of participating in the Iditasport in mid-February. The event consists of snowshoe, ski, cycle and running races and a triathlon.

Case, 55, was the second-oldest runner to complete the 100-mile distance while pulling a gear-packed sled.

Druzgal said he provided "emotional support" during Case's last nine miles, running alongside to help him finish the race in 49 hours.

"I helped the people who organized the race, helped keep times, and ran with strugglers," said Druzgal, a biochemistry / chemistry / exercise science major. "As competitors came in, I gathered nutritional information from them."

This is the second time Case has participated in the ultramarathon. He ran in 1995 with Sam Alspach, a professor of biology at Western Maryland College.

Case is using the information he gathered from his trips this winter in articles he's writing for the magazine Ultrarunner, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and Bike Magazine.

Case's dedication to physical fitness recently earned him appointment to the Governor's Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and he has been chosen president-elect of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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