|ERIC ZEMPER - MSU Varsity 'S' Jack Breslin Winner - 2013|
ERIC ZEMPER Eric D. Zemper, PhD, FACSM
My interest in running and my abilities as a distance runner probably were inherited from my father, Duane L. Zemper, who was a two-time All-American cross country runner in the early 1940s at Michigan Normal (now Eastern Michigan). I was on two Michigan high school Class B State Championship Cross Country Teams at Howell HS (1959, 1960), and was the Class B state one-mile run champion, setting a state record (4:22.3) in 1962. At MSU I set the freshman record in the outdoor one-mile run (4:14.0) in 1963, and was on a 4-mile relay team that set a national collegiate freshman record. During my varsity career I contributed to Big Ten championship teams in both cross country and track and field. In my senior year I set MSU’s Ralph Young Field record for the one-mile run (4:10.2) in 1967. I also set an MSU varsity record in the outdoor 3-mile run (14:10) in 1964, and cross country course records at MSU and at Minnesota in 1964. In my senior year I became the fourth runner in Big Ten history to break nine minutes in the 2-mile run with a time of 8:59.4 on the old dirt track in Jenison Field House. These athletic endeavors during all three sport seasons of the year were accomplished while also obtaining a degree in Microbiology (Bacteriology). Because of this difficult year-round balancing act between athletics and academics, I don’t think I ever ran as well as I could have and never had the grades I could have. But I would not have traded it for anything, and am grateful to have had the opportunity. As an age group competitor in my 30s, I won several state one-mile championships, three national age group one-mile championships, and a number of Midwest age group championships from the 800 meters to 5,000 meters. In my one attempt at the marathon, I won the 1974 Breckenridge Marathon with a time of 2:39. I am an inaugural member of the Howell High School Athletics Hall of Fame, and in 2013 I am being inducted into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame.
After graduating from MSU in 1967 with a degree in microbiology, I started a job as a research assistant in the medical school at the University of Wisconsin until I got drafted the next spring. I eventually worked my way into an assignment teaching preventive medicine techs (the Army’s equivalent of public health inspectors) at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio; so I spent my military career teaching people how to save lives rather than take lives. In early 1971 I got out of the Army and returned to MSU to earn an M.S. degree in Microbiology and Public Health (1977) and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (1982), concentrating in medical education. During this period I spent eleven years on the staff of the Office of Medical Education Research and Development at MSU, first as a grad assistant and then as a faculty member. In 1978-1979 I also filled in as the head coach of the MSU women's cross country team, which finished 10th at the national championships, and was Coach Nell Jack-son’s distance coach for the women's track team. During that year my runners broke every MSU varsity indoor and outdoor record from 1500 meters to 10,000 meters. I was offered the job permanently, but turned it down since I knew my career track was in research and not coaching.
At the end of 1981 I left MSU to take a job as the first research coordinator for the NCAA. The early 80s was an interesting time to work there because there were a lot of new things happening. I was hired primarily to design and implement the NCAA Injury Surveillance System, which for over 30 years has produced the world’s largest database on sports injuries and has had an impact on a lot of rule changes in various sports regarding safety for the athletes. Because I was the only one on staff with a doctoral degree and experience in sports medicine or educational research, I also was involved with initial devel-opment of the NCAA drug testing program, and designed and administered the NCAA’s first study of student-athlete academic performance, which over the years since has led directly to today’s NCAA academic performance and graduation rate reporting program. At the end of 1985 I accepted a job as the first director of a sports medicine research institute at the University of Oregon in Eugene. There I continued doing research in the epidemiology of sports in-juries, focusing primarily on head injuries in football and the performance of football helmets, as well as doing research for the US Olympic Committee. Beginning in 1989, and continuing through my final publication on concussion research in 2003, I was one of the earliest sports medicine professionals to be-gin calling for a reconsideration of the way sport concussions were handled, which finally is coming to pass in the past few years. For my contributions to the field of sports medicine, I recently was elected as a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Eventually I left the University of Oregon and operated my own sports medicine research and consulting company in Eugene, until moving back to Michigan at the end of 2000. At that time I took a job doing research at the medical school at the University of Michigan. Currently I am an adjunct research pro-fessor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the UM medical school, where I worked for nine years after returning to Michigan. During this period I also worked as a consultant in medical education at MSU, and for the past four years have been working full-time as a medical education specialist in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, thus coming full-circle in my professional career, returning to where I started as a medical educator at MSU. My research at UM focused on health and wellness issues for people with spinal cord injuries. My work at MSU has primarily involved develop-ment and validation of educational and evaluation materials for resident physi-cian training at hospitals across the state.
Right after graduation from MSU in 1967, I began officiating at track meets while at the University of Wisconsin, kind of as a way to “pay the sport back” for a lot of great experiences, good friends and a college education, and I’ve been officiating ever since. After moving to Eugene I was one of the lead start-ers at Hayward Field, the “epicenter” of Track Town USA, for 15 years. Along the way I’ve been the starter or head starter for over two dozen NCAA and USATF national championships, and the referee for several Big 10 champion-ships. I’m responsible for training and certifying officials in Michigan for USA Track & Field, have presented training clinics all over the country, and have developed a considerable amount of training material for track and field officials, including the training manual for starters used by USA Track & Field. Recently I was invited to be on a panel of nine national and international starters to develop a case book for starters. I was selected to work as a track official in both the 1984 and 1996 Olympic Games, and currently am an Inter-national Technical Official for the International Association of Athletics Fed-erations, one of three such officials from the US and one of only 45 in the world. As an IAAF ITO I’ve worked indoor and outdoor world championship meets overseeing referees and chief judges, as well as the Continental Cup in Croatia and several meets in the Caribbean. I worked as an official in my third Olympics this past summer in London as one of the ten ITOs assigned to the meet. Working as an official in three Olympic Games is a distinction I don’t believe any other US track official can claim. I also am an Area Technical Of-ficial for the International Paralympic Committee, a member of the USATF Committee on Athletics for the Disabled, and edit the section of the USATF rule book dealing with rules for competitions for athletes with disabilities.
Giving back to MSU athletics:
Recently I was the primary founder of the MSU track and cross country alumni organization and the MSU Finish Line Club, the booster club for the MSU track and cross country programs. Currently I serve as past-president of these organizations and write/edit the alumni news-letter. Also I have served on the Board of Directors of the MSU Varsity ‘S’ Club, and have edited the club’s newsletter.
From my first marriage I have three children who all still live in Eugene. My son, Eric J. Zemper, works for a publishing company in Eugene; daughter Erin is a Deputy District Attorney for Lane County in Eugene; and youngest daughter Kimberly is director of fitness programs at the Eugene YMCA. My current wife, Mary, is an epidemiologist and biostatistician in the medical school at UM, and we live in Ann Arbor. Mary also is a track and field official, and we first met at a national Masters track meet at MSU in 1995 where we both were working as officials. We were married eleven years ago this spring.