The Human Performance Laboratory at Old Dominion University was originally founded by Dr. Mel Williams, an eminent professor who conducted research on ergogenic aids, sports enhancement, and blood doping. In addition to his groundbreaking research, he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in exercise science and founded the Wellness Institute at Old Dominion University. Dr. Williams was an incredibly humble, knowledgeable, and influential scholar who left an enormous legacy through his research and teaching.
Dr. Mel Williams was born in 1937 in Kingston, Pennsylvania. He participated in sports such as football and wrestling in high school, and used running as a way to stay conditioned. In an interview with Dr. Louise Burke in 2010, Dr. Williams reported that his interest in exercise science developed through the interactions of the many years of sports involvement and education in medicine and cience. Dr. Williams said, "While in high school, my favorite class was physical education." After high school, Dr. Williams enrolled in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and also gained experience in emergency care in the medical corps. After leaving the army, Dr. Williams attended East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania from 1958-1962, earning his Bachelor's degree in health and physical education. From there, he went on to earn his Master's degree in physical education from Ohio University and his PhD in physical education and exercise science from the University of Maryland.
Dr. Williams came to Old Dominion University as a faculty member in 1968, and his achievements over his career can only be described as prolific. Dr. Williams conducted experiments on the effects of ergogenic aids focusing on various techniques such as hypnosis, caffeine, alcohol, and blood transfusions. In 1985, his research on blood transfusions contributed to the decision of the Olympic Committee to ban athletes from using blood doping. Dr. Williams also published approximately 20 textbooks focusing on performance, nutrition, and ergogenic aids. They have been translated into many different languages and used at colleges and universities across the world. Dr. Williams was the founding editor of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition, which was the first scientific journal specifically devoted to sport nutrition research.
Outside of work, Dr. Williams was an elite runner himself and was passionate about engaging in the distance running community. Dr. Williams was an active member of the Tidewater Striders, the largest running club in Virginia. He was one of the original founding members of the Striders, was a board member for over two decades and was also the President in 1979. In 2011, Dr. Williams was inducted into the Tidewater Striders Hall of Fame, in part because of his prolific personal running accomplishments. He participated in over 120 marathon and ultramarathons and finished every Marine Corps Marathon between 1976 and 2013, which gave him the nickname "ground pounder". His best performance for the Marine Corps Marathon came in 1982, with a time of 2 hours and 34 minutes. He also won his age group in the Boston Marathon at ages 51, 60 and 61. Beyond his own accomplishments, Dr. Williams was well-known for helping and encouraging others reach their running goals.