Four UB Chancellor's Award Winners Form Marathon Relay Team

By Donna Longenecker

Release Date: August 1, 2003 This content is archived.


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Four faculty members from UB, from left, Joseph Atkinson, David Kofke, Joseph Mollendorf and David Gerber, ran the Buffalo marathon as a relay team.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Long-distance running has always captivated the imagination -- just visit a few running sites on the Web and note how often the word "mythic" is used to describe either a particular marathon or runner.

And then there's the association with ancient Greece, where runners were employed as messengers bearing news of war and revered for being able to cover long distances on foot in a short amount of time. In fact, Achilles and Theseus both were runners.

The University at Buffalo has its own mythic messengers -- "Two Daves and Two Joes" -- four State University of New York Chancellor's Award winners who are long-distance runners, as well as top-notch teachers.

Members of the team -- Joseph C. Mollendorf of Amherst, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Joseph F. Atkinson of Amherst, professor of civil engineering and director of UB's Great Lakes Program, and David A. Kofke of East Amherst, professor of chemical engineering, all in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and David A. Gerber of Buffalo, professor of history in UB's College of Arts and Sciences, -- joined to run the Buffalo Marathon in May as a relay team. Hence the team name "Two Daves and Two Joes."

Gerber has been running for 30 years, and at age 58, still runs about 25-30 miles a week. It was Gerber's "spontaneous suggestion," according to Atkinson, to form a relay team to run the marathon.

Gerber says he works out "knotty" problems while running, both with his writing and in his work as a historian, and also finds that it's the one time of the day he can catch up on the news while listening to his Walkman.

"It's just part of who I am," Gerber says about his passion for running. "It's helped me in so many ways just to live." He's also developed a group of friends in the community that he says he might not have gotten to know otherwise -- men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, from truck drivers to special-education teachers.

Mollendorf, while outwardly less philosophical about his reasons for doing so, clearly is a zealot when it comes to running and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious. At 58, he runs a 9-minute mile when most people half his age can't even walk a mile in twice that time. But then, he's been running for 20 years.

"I just really enjoy it," he says, calling himself "the weakest link" of the team. Yet, he ran the last leg of the Buffalo Marathon -- the longest leg of the race at 12 kilometers, compared to the other three legs of 10 kilometers each -- and has run a full marathon, a total of 26.2 miles.

"I find it therapeutic -- mentally and physically stimulating. I just let my mind wander," says Mollendorf, who averages 15 miles, running three times a week. He works out at the Jewish Community Center, arriving every day at 6:30 a.m. and leaving at about the time Gerber arrives around 8:30 a.m. Mollendorf jokes that as the oldest runner in the group, he has the most work to do, but it's clear that his teammates admire his stamina. Running with the others, he says, just inspires him to keep pushing harder.

A runner since 1977, Atkinson says the sport is a nice meditation of sorts and a great way to work through both personal and professional issues. After completing his 10K leg of the marathon, he continued on with Gerber, racking up a total of 20 kilometers.

"I may think of ways to explain things in a lecture and I often think about how the students are doing," says Atkinson of his time spent running. Kofke echoed those sentiments, adding that he sometimes hashes out political debates with himself or ponders a research problem.

Kofke and Atkinson are the two youngest members of the team, hovering somewhere in their 40s.

Kofke, who ran the third leg of the marathon, runs and swims every week -- totaling about 11 miles altogether. Although this was his first marathon, he says he's willing to do it again next year and everyone else enthusiastically agreed.

"Next year, we'll win a trophy," Gerber predicts.