NAME: Milan Jamrich, Ph.D.
OCCUPATION: Professor at Baylor College of Medicine
INTEREST: Competitive high jumping
Mentally and physically, Milan Jamrich, Ph.D., has always aimed high.
For the past 20 years, Jamrich has served as a molecular and cell biologist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he studies a rare genetic mutation that causes animals—including humans—to be born without eyes.
“Our claim to fame is that we have identified the key gene in eye formation,” Jamrich said. “This gene is also expressed in a part of the brain called ventromedial hypothalamus—this part of our brain that regulates our body temperature and oxygen level. … If you don’t have ventromedial hypothalamus, typically, you would die even in utero, but there are some minor mutations in which case the brain is just fine but the eyes are lacking.”
Outside the lab, Jamrich, 67, has pushed himself to his physical limit and found fame as an elite high jumper.
Jamrich began high jumping when he was 14 years old in his home country of Czechoslovakia, now a part of Slovakia. When a friend’s father—a track and field enthusiast—built a high jump pit and introduced the boys to the sport, he was hooked.
He later joined the track and field team and trained to be a hurdler, but after his coaches noticed that he leapt too high over the hurdles and lost too much time in the air, he decided to redirect his natural skill and pursue the high jump instead.
“I just followed the talent,” Jamrich said.
Jamrich later immigrated to Germany at the age of 20. While he pursued his Ph.D. at Heidelberg University, he continued to compete in the high jump at the elite level, earning the collegiate champion title and placing first in the International British Track and Field Championships in 1972.
During the apex of his athletic career in Germany, Jamrich competed twice a week for eight years. In 1976, he hit his all-time career best at 2.15 meters (7.05 feet). But when he turned 28, his coaches told him he was too old to compete any further.
Like many athletes who retire, Jamrich turned to coaching a small group of high jumpers. His biggest success was coaching a British high jumper who competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Although Jamrich was interested in continuing to coach, the time commitment proved too challenging. On top of his career as a science researcher, he was a husband and a father to an autistic son.
When Jamrich moved to the United States, he decided to compete again at age 48. Since then, he has won the USA Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships in his age group 11 times and the World Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships five times, earning first place in 2011.
Over his career, Jamrich broke several American records in high jumping and still holdsthe record in the 60–64 age group at 1.67 meters (5.5 feet), which he earned in 2011.
His growing list of championship titles is impressive and, for many, hard to believe.
“They’re a little bit confused when I tell them I’m a high jumper,” he said. “They’re not sure if I’m joking or whether I’m serious, especially when they ask me how old I am.”
Jamrich attributes his success to hard work, dedication, and a rigorous exercise regimen. He spends 30 to 45 minutes every day working out—weight training three times a week, high jumping twice a week and focusing on sprints and plyometric exercises the rest of the time.
“If you really stick to exercises, you don’t feel like you are aging that fast,” he said. “You still feel like you have energy, power and speed. … People say 60 is the new 40. To a degree, it is.”
Jamrich plans to train for an upcoming high jump championship in Spokane, Washington, this summer.
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Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Perry Loyd. Perry served during World War I. Perry enlisted with the United States Army at Camp Jackson (now Fort Jackson), South Carolina on Oct. 10, 1917. After completing basic training, he was assigned to the 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, a segregated division of the U.S. Army and the only African-American division allowed to serve in combat during World War I. In April 1918, Perry and the 93rd Infantry Division were deployed to France. Upon arriving, Perry and the 371st Infantry Division were attached to the French 157th Régiment d'Infanterie under command of General Mariano Goybet, who had been in desperate need of reinforcements. For three months, Perry and his fellow soldiers served on the front line under French command, holding positions at Avocourt and later at Verdun, France. In September 1918, Perry and the 93rd Infantry Division were taken off the front line in preparation for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. For 47 days, Allied forces launched a massive assault across the entire Western Front in the largest offensive operation in U.S. military history. Perry and his regiment began their offensive in Champaign, France on Sept. 26, 1918. By Oct. 6, the 371st Infantry Regiment had successfully taken positions from German forces across Northern France, including Hill 188, Bussy Ferme, Ardeuil-et-Montfauxelles and Trieres Ferme. On Sept. 29, 1918 while fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Perry was wounded in action. Perry survived his wounds and following the Armistice, was discharged at the rank of sergeant. Upon completing his service, Perry returned to his home state of South Carolina, where he worked as a sharecropper until passing in 1946 at the age of 61. Despite being wounded in action, Perry never received the Purple Heart. His grandson and namesake, Perry James, sought to rectify this, researching military records and petitioning with his congressional office. On Oct. 13, 2018, 100 years after being wounded in France, Perry was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during combat. We honor his service.
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