Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens once said, “We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.”

A group of UT PGE faculty and students understand this philosophy by their commitment to running half and full marathons. Two professors in the department, Drs. Carlos Torres-Verdin and Masa Prodanovic as well as Kelli Rankin, a Ph.D. student, among others, have been pounding the pavement for years and have no intentions of hanging up their sneakers anytime soon.

Torres-Verdin finishing 3M Half Marathon with time of 1:31.54Torres-Verdin has a significant number of marathons under his belt.

“I have completed 10 official marathons and a couple non-official - a few in Austin, two in New York, one in Boston, and a couple more in Texas. I have also finished 10 official half marathons and more than 50 non-official half marathons,” said Torres-Verdin.

Loneliness on the path is not an issue for Torres-Verdin.

“My dog (Cosmo, a short-haired German pointer, known as Forrest Gump among my neighbors) has completed more than 20 non-official half marathons and several 18-mile runs with me: the Texas heat is not a problem for him,” said Torres-Verdin.

Besides his furry friend, Torres-Verdin keeps running interesting by engaging with other runners around the globe when he takes trips for work and pleasure.

“I have run all over the world. When I travel, I choose hotels based on their proximity to running adventures and places to jog,” said Torres-Verdin. “My way to test people's friendliness in different cities and countries is to say "good morning" to all runners. Australians are some of the most joyous runners I have encountered, and are always willing to share a beer in the process!” 

Prodanovic has been committed to athletic training for several years; in the department Prodanovic is busy calculating how far fluid will go in subsurface, but off campus she is calculating running distances.

“I started training for half marathons in 2007, and have completed nine in Austin so far,” said Prodanovic. “Half marathon (13.1 miles) is a fun distance for me: it is enough to keep me in shape and it gives me a specific goal to train for, yet the training does not challenge my schedule when it gets hectic or pose a problem for my body.”

Both Prodanovic and Torres-Verdin use running as a form of meditation and say it helps them stay sharp researchers.

“Many of my spiritual and research ideas came to my head when I was running,” explained Torres-Verdin.  “It is the moment where my mind feels at complete ease and is free of dogmatic and passive thinking. The brain has unexpected ways to work and wander when the body is in syncopathic mode.

Rankin believes running helps her to excel as a student in the department by giving her an energy boost needed for long days in the labs conducting research and her favorite food doesn’t hurt as motivation either.

“I love to run because an early morning run is better than any amount of caffeine to get me ready for the day,” said Rankin. “Also, running allows me to exercise outside of a gym where I can be alone with my thoughts and nature.  Chocolate is my running inspiration; running allows me to eat more of it.”

Dr. Prodanovic and team posing after 3M Half Marathon.

Rankin, along with other students, is a member of the PGE running group, Team Energy, which was created last year by Prodanovic to provide motivation and a community for the participants.

“I'm proud of Team Energy to no end,” said Prodanovic. “We all then trained with Austin Fit which has wonderful volunteer coaches. They molded their training into a form that fits the students’ goals, fitness level and schedule, so they were able to complete a long distance race that for most of them was a first!”

Torres-Verdin’s next race is coming up on May 6 – it’s the Pittsburgh Marathon – and he is raising money for Livestrong, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, which fights to improve the lives of people with cancer.