Two dozen Lehigh graduate students proved that they are quick runners as well as quick studies earlier this month when they won first place for the fastest overall time at the annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.
The 5-kilometer event, which was held at Northampton Community College, attracted 475 runners.
Alex Weldon, a second-year Ph.D. student in chemical engineering who studies convective deposition, was Lehigh’s top finisher—taking 10th place overall and first place among males ages 20-29, with a time of 20 minutes and six seconds.
Weldon enjoyed the event because it combined his love of running with the chance to improve the lives of 46 million adults and 300,000 children currently living with arthritis.
The 24 graduate students on the Lehigh team—no strangers to challenging courses of a different kind—raised $720 for arthritis research. Other top Lehigh finishers were Edann Brady, leader in the female 20-29 age group and 16th overall finisher with a time of 20:20, and Kathleen Bibalo, second among women 30-39 years of age and 36th overall at 21:45.
“The Jingle Bell Run is competitive, but so much fun,” says Bibalo. “You are running with a large group of really great people for a great cause and when you are done you all get to sit down and enjoy a snack and celebrate. It is right in line with the spirit of the holiday season—friends, family, tradition and giving back.”
Runners in the event are encouraged to wear Christmas costumes. Each is given jingle bells to attach their shoes.
“You end up with a nice Rudolph/Santa’s sleigh-esque cadence during the run,” Weldon says.
Concerns give way to perspective
Other Lehigh finishers among the top 100 runners were Alex Halperin (58th place), Karen McCready (60th), Tara Redding (75th) and Marina Skyers (83rd).
Among the walkers, five Lehigh graduate students were among the top 15 finishers: Jessica Stuart (second place female and overall at 39:06); Tsering Dhundup (second place male and fifth-place finisher overall at 41:59); Nina Finamore (fourth overall at 42:13); Becky Sikora (fifth overall at 42:13) and Cindy Adams (15th overall at 44:26).
Weldon, who graduated from Princeton in 2008 with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering, hopes to become an astronaut. He says running and working out help him excel in the classroom and the lab. Weldon is working with James Gilchrist, assistant professor of chemical engineering, on a research project that involves the depositing of single-layers of particles for a variety of applications, including the detection of cancerous and HIV-infected cells and the development of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and solar cells.
“Training and working out definitely help me with my studies by giving me a little respite from the academic side of my life,” says Weldon. “I feel that you can only work your mind so hard before you lose productivity anyways and need to take a break. All those intellectual problems and concerns fade away and give you a little perspective when you’re gasping for air at the end of a tough run or workout.”
Weldon trains in a high-intensity program called CrossFit that builds functional strength and explosive power by integrating gymnastics (push-ups, pull-ups and more) with Olympic and power lifting, plyometrics (jumping and other dynamic movements), and sprinting.
“I train at CrossFit Lehigh Valley, which also does the strength and conditioning training for Lehigh’s swimming and diving and women’s crew teams,” says Weldon.
Running is also an important component in Bibalo’s busy life. The administrative director in the office of the vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies, Bibalo completed her MBA with a certificate in Project Management in September from Lehigh and will begin pursuing a second concentration in finance at Lehigh in January.
“I have a huge boxer puppy at home who usually demands at least a five-mile run 4-5 times per week,” says Bibalo. “In this weather that is about all I can handle. In the summer, I usually log 30-35 miles per week. I just started competing in races two winters ago. The Jingle Bell Run was my first competitive race. Since then I have run the Lehigh Valley half-marathon twice and the Jingle Bell Run twice.
“I also run with my fiance and fellow Lehigh alum, Tom Nasti (who received his MBA from Lehigh in 2009).”