Are you prepared – to prepare an “Olympian”?

Recently, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games came to a close. The games included a number of thrilling surprises (Red Gerard) and heart-breaking spills (figure skaters). Although medals awarded late in the Olympic schedule helped boost Team USA’s medal count, most would agree that the U.S.’s performance in PyeongChang fell below expectations. Looking for answers, TV commentators remarked that the US pipeline for development of Olympic athletes has diminished in recent years.

While taking in the splendor of the Olympic Games, I began to wonder…should we be training future scientists is a manner similar to our athletes? Is the pipeline for development of talent well established and supported?  How do we get the American public to rally behind the performance of high performing physiologists?  What if local businesses, and corporate sponsors proudly displayed “we employ future teachers, scientists, and health care providers”?

As an avid follower of the games, it became obvious to me that Olympic athletes cluster in specific regions of the US. The Gold medal men’s curling team included 4 men from Minnesota (3 from Duluth), and one from nearby Wisconsin. Three young Olympic snowboarders (Red Gerard, Kyle Mack, and Chris Corning) all hail from Silverthorne, Colorado. The city of Federal Way (located along Federal Highway U.S. 99 in Washington State) is an incubator of U.S. short-track speed skating talent, and has sent American speed skaters to the past five Winter Olympics (Ohno, Celski and Tran).

Is it possible that certain high schools and undergraduate institutions could be considered “incubators” for development of physiologists (scientists in general)? Can we consider our school a “hot bed” for training and development of those with a passion for science?  As professionals, are we fulfilling our role to prepare our youth for their “Olympic” performance, or are we falling behind expectations?

To assist in preparing future physiologists, the American Physiological Society supports the “pipeline” by providing a number of programs and awards (see links below). However, these offerings require us to identify students and encourage and support their applications. We are called upon to build programs and opportunities that are sustainable, and produce measurable outcomes.

I have to admit that prior to writing this post, I had not FULLY considered my role in developing our future physiologists (Olympians).  I personally pledge to re-evaluate my role, and hope to bring others into the conversation to ponder the questions posed.

In closing, I would ask you to consider a quote from former Olympic Gold medalist Mia Hamm, and think about specific and personal ways each of us can help build the fire, and light the match.

“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.” – Mia Hamm, American soccer player and gold medalist.

Undergraduate Awards


K-12 Awards

  • APS Science Fair Awards: APS members make APS awards at local or regional science fair at the elementary, middle, or high school level.
  • ISEF Awards: APS participates as a Special Awards Sponsor for the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)


Program brochures for diversity and higher education:


Mari K. Hopper, PhD, is currently an Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. In addition to teaching physiology in a variety of systems based courses, she serves as the Director of Research, Hospital Medical Education, and other Scholarly work. Prior to this position, she taught physiology based courses at the undergraduate level for over 20 years. She is currently on the HAPS Conference Site Selection Committee, Chair of the Chapter Advisory Committee of the American Physiological Society, and Past-President of the Indiana Physiological Society. Her research interests include both student academic engagement (active learning) and student health.

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