Exercise keeps mind, body active for 74-year-old physicist
June 1, 2009
Redstone Arsenal, Ala. -- The President's Challenge National Physical Fitness Award requires an 8-year-old girl to run a mile in 12 minutes, 30 seconds. So, what award does a 74-year-old man who can run a mile in 12 minutes receive'
First place in his age group during a 5K run in March, according to Robert McMillan, senior scientist at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, even if he was the only entrant in his age group.
"It's not always as much fun as it used to be," McMillan said laughing. He keeps exercising, though, to stay in shape and keep his blood pressure in check. "If you overdo it, you get discouraged and stop."
He began running about 40 years ago while attending graduate school in Florida, where he earned his masters degree in physics from Rollins College and his doctorate in physics from the University of Florida.
"I was under a lot of stress and was suffering from headaches, so I went to the doctor," McMillan said. "He told me, 'You need to start running.'"
It was the late 1970s, though, before McMillan began competitively running. He has participated in 12 triathlons over the years, with the most recent being Redstone Arsenal's Rocketman - McMillan biked, his daughter Marissa Burns ran, and his granddaughter Tara Burns swam.
"One of my best times was in a marathon I ran in 1983," he said. "It took me 3 hours and 25 minutes and I kept a pace of 7 minutes, 50 seconds per mile ."
These days, McMillan is taking life at an easier pace. He exercises on his lunch break, alternating between biking or running 3.5 miles and weight training, and he tries not to run two days in a row.
The rest of his day is devoted to solving radar and optical sensor equations at USASMDC/ARSTRAT. Prior to starting his federal career with the command in 1998, McMillan worked almost 40 years in industry.
"I'm very fortunate to have gotten into a field I enjoy working in," said McMillan, who knew when he graduated from high school that he wanted to be some type of an engineer. "When I was a kid, my dad brought a dry-cell battery home. I played with that thing for hours making circuits and trying to create an electromagnet. I have always enjoyed stuff like that."
McMillan shared that joy with his wife of 54 years - Ann, a registered nurse - and his children - two girls and a boy - who grew up to be a science teacher, an auto mechanic and a clinical research professor. He also tries to share that enjoyment with his grandchildren who range in age from 8 to 28.
"I have just tried to stress the importance of science in their lives, especially the girls," McMillan said. "We (as a society) need to convince little girls that they can do science. Too many girls get lost from science because of peer pressure in high school. Science is just too important."
Author's Note: Before beginning any exercise regimen, please consult a physician.