Barefoot running advocate accepts position at Harvard
Irene Davis

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11:16 a.m., Dec. 2, 2010----Irene Davis, professor in the University of Delaware's Department of Physical Therapy, is retiring from UD after 21 years and has accepted a position on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, where she will help to launch the Spaulding National Running Center.

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A runner herself, Davis has become nationally recognized for her research on the biomechanics and benefits of running barefoot or with minimal footwear.

“It's always been a vision of mine to have a center focused on running and running injuries,” Davis says. “Boston is a mecca for runners, and I'll be immersed in one of the nation's hubs of science and medicine -- it doesn't get any better than that. The resources for collaboration are amazing, and I'll have access to a large population of potential subjects.”

Davis believes that people were born to run but are often sidelined by injuries, some of which result from changes in our natural gait induced by modern running shoes.

She emphasizes that her interest in conducting research on running is not about performance but about sustainability. “It's great to watch elite runners perform,” she says, “but that's not what I'm most passionate about. I enjoy working just as much for the person who wants to run for the pure joy of it and may never enter a race.”

“My goal is to help to develop interventions for overuse injuries of the lower extremities, such as tibial stress fractures and plantar fasciitis, so that people can remain active and healthy throughout their lives,” she adds.

Davis also wants to help wounded warriors who have lost limbs return to running. “The National Institutes of Health are interested in this work because running can help prevent obesity and health problems such as heart attack and stroke. The Department of Defense is also interested, as running is an integral part of a soldier's activities.”

At Harvard, Davis will continue to collaborate with UD faculty. For example, she and Steven Stanhope, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, are co-principal investigators of a $19.5-million consortium grant recently proposed to the DoD. Their team is currently one of two finalists for this award, which would establish an orthopaedic rehabilitation research partnership to address a wide range of musculoskeletal trauma injuries in soldiers.

“Delaware has given me a tremendous opportunity to develop my career to a point where I can be offered a position at Harvard Medical School,” Davis says. “I owe a debt of gratitude to this university.”

Davis, who joined the UD faculty in 1989, is credited with acquiring nearly $3.5 million in grants to support and sustain her research, authoring papers that have been cited more than 1,000 times in peer-reviewed journals, and giving nearly 300 national and international scientific presentations.

In addition to her peer-reviewed publications, she has contributed to the education of the public through her work being featured on ABC World News Tonight and Good Morning America, as well as in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Parade, and Time.

Earlier this year, Davis was elected a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association. The designation recognizes individuals whose work has resulted in lasting and significant advances in the science, education, and practice of the profession of physical therapy.

Article by Diane Kukich

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