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Professor Touches Countless Lives with Her Devotion to Exercise Physiolgy

Girls were excluded from scholastic sports when Dr. Joyce Ballard was in high school, but that did not prevent her from enjoying a game of basketball or softball. In her hometown of Cedar Springs, Mich., a small community nestled amidst apple, peach and cherry orchards, her family’s farm was “headquarters’’ for neighborhood sports.

“I have one sister, Joanne, and I guess you could say we were our dad’s boys. In school there were no sports for girls, so my sister was a cheerleader and dad always took us to the games, even when the games were farther away. And then, in our barn he put up two baskets. Neighborhood kids would come over and we’d play basketball out there,’’ she recalled, adding that their front lawn became a softball diamond when friends stopped by on the way home from school. They’d set up bases, choose sides and play ball until sunset.

The fondness her father instilled in her for sports and physical activity would provide direction for her career.

Planning to become a mathematics teacher, Dr. Ballard graduated from Spring Arbor Junior College in Michigan and transferred to Greenville College in Illinois, which happened to offer sports for girls. The math major enjoyed playing on the basketball and softball teams and, as a result, decided to take on physical education as a second major.

She delved into the study of physical activity and its impact on health, human performance and quality of life, earning a bachelor of education degree. She received a master of arts degree in kinesiology, the study of movement or exercise, from Kent State University in Ohio and a doctorate in exercise physiology and statistics from the University of Illinois at Champaign- Urbana in 1975.

For more than 30 years at The University of Texas at Tyler, Dr. Ballard has impacted countless lives with her passion for teaching and conducting research in health and kinesiology.

In the UT Tyler classroom, Dr. Ballard develops a close rapport with students as she inspires, challenges and prepares them for success in the health and kinesiology professions. Her former students have taken places across the nation as significant leaders and contributors to the field.

And for her exceptional ability to engage students in the learning experience, she has received honors including the Chancellor’s Council Outstanding Teaching Award, given for excellence within The University of Texas System.

In addition to directing the thesis-related research of her many graduate students, Dr. Ballard has pursued an impressive line of research related to bone mineral density. She is among pioneer researchers in the study of exercise as it relates to bone density and the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to lose mass and break easily.

When Dr. Ballard began her research 25 years ago, it was unknown if exercise in any form would help prevent or treat the disease. Dr. Ballard and other researchers have found that weight-bearing exercise improves bone health and plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

“Dr. Ballard is well-known for her extensive research in osteoporosis,’’ said Dr. Linda Klotz, dean of the UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “She is definitely a pioneer in terms of looking at bone density in minority women and how various factors that contribute to osteoporosis in Caucasian women, who tend to be most often studied, differ within minority populations. She has followed osteoporosis in men as well, which is very unique.’’

An osteoporosis prevention exercise class Dr. Ballard developed for senior women in the community has served as a basis for several assessments in her research. Ongoing since 1985, the program has helped preserve the quality of life for area seniors.

“There are some ladies in her osteoporosis prevention exercise group who are now pretty elderly, whose bone density is good because they’ve been exercising with Dr. Ballard all these years,’’ Dr. Klotz said. “And she is very protective of them. They are very close after all this time.’’

Dr. Ballard also keeps in touch with many of her former students, including Dr. Mark Loftin, professor and chair of the Department of Health, Exercise and Recreation Management at the University of Mississippi.

One of Dr. Ballard’s first graduate students, Dr. Loftin said she was instrumental in his becoming a professor and researcher. “She is a magnificent teacher, very bright, works well with students. Dr. Ballard guided me along and basically introduced me to the world of research,’’ said the Tyler native who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UT Excellence in Education, Research Tyler.

“She had just finished her dissertation and post-doc at the University of Illinois, and her influence led me to going there for my doctorate.’’

Golden Opportunity
When Dr. Ballard visited Tyler State College for the first time in May 1975, the main campus was a former junior high school on North Broadway Avenue, with education and psychology programs located in a former Safeway grocery store in downtown Tyler.

The college that would eventually become UT Tyler did not look much like a college or university then. But that did not matter to Dr. Ballard, who was applying for a faculty position. After visiting with Dr. Keith McCoy about his plans for the Department of Health and Physical Education, she decided Tyler State was the place for her.

Trends were changing in the area of physical fitness when Dr. McCoy began forming in 1973 what is now the UT Tyler Department of Health and Kinesiology. Researchers were making new scientific discoveries about the positive effects of exercise and movement on the human body. Americans were being advised to change their sedentary ways for the sake of wellness. Adult fitness and prescriptive exercise programs were being developed.

Dr.McCoy’s plans for the department included a science-based curriculum with progressive minded faculty and laboratory research facilities to prepare students not only for traditional physical education careers in teaching and coaching but also for newly emerging opportunities in clinical exercise physiology, athletic training, corporate and adult fitness, health care and research.

Exercise physiology, the study of the effects of exercise on the body’s physiologic systems and tissues, was emerging as an important direction in the fitness field.

Dr. McCoy contacted the University of Illinois in search of candidates to teach exercise physiology at Tyler State. A leading edge, research-based program, U of I’s physical fitness department was producing graduates who were making important contributions to the field of exercise physiology.

“I called Dr. (B.H.) Massey at the University of Illinois and asked if he knew of anyone who would be good for the position,’’ Dr.McCoy recalled. “He said he knew of a graduate who would be a good fit for our program but he didn’t believe that person would come to Tyler State. And that was Dr. Ballard.’’

Dr. Ballard was working in a National Institute of Health post-doctoral fellowship with the U of I Children’s Research Center and Physical Fitness Research Laboratory, investigating issues concerning the use of Ritalin to treat hyperactive children.

She already had declined a job offer to return to a Pasadena, Calif., college, where she had taught health and physical education before pursuing her doctorate. But unlike the prediction of her adviser, Dr. Massey, Dr. Ballard accepted the opportunity to teach and conduct research at Tyler State.

“They wanted me to come back out to Pasadena, but I wouldn’t have had a chance to do research there,’’ she said. “When I decided to take the position here, I was really intrigued because I could set up the exercise physiology program, I could order the equipment … I would be starting from scratch. And I could teach in the area in which I had been trained, I could do research. All of that was very appealing to me.’’

Just as Planned
Tyler State evolved rapidly after its establishment in 1971 as an upper-level institution. Its named changed to Texas Eastern University between the time of Dr. Ballard’s interview in May 1975 and the signing of her teaching contract that summer. The university relocated to its current campus in 1976 and joined the University of Texas System in 1979. UT Tyler became a four-year institution accepting freshmen and sophomores in 1998.

The health and physical education department was moved to its own building in January 1977. This was after one year in which faculty offices were located on the third floor of the Administration Building and the department’s only classroom was located on the first floor of the University Center. The newly constructed Health and Physical Education Building, adjacent to the University Center, was a state-of-the-art learning and research facility, just as Dr. McCoy had planned, Dr. Ballard said.

“Our building was very unique in that it was built around labs. There was an exercise physiology lab with a chemistry lab, there was a biomechanics lab, there was a motor development lab. This was a new concept, because most physical education programs were only training teachers. They weren’t doing research or anything very scientific at that time,’’ she said.

“People who graduated from our program were not only becoming public school teachers, they also were assuming leadership roles in areas such as adult fitness and exercise for rehabilitation, which required a stronger background in science.’’

UT Tyler’s graduate program attracted students from across the United States and beyond. “We had students from all over – Massachusetts, Ohio, Alaska, Puerto Rico – because we were one of the first schools to have a more scientific-based program,’’ the professor said of what was renamed the Department of Health and Kinesiology in1990.

Her own niece came from Michigan to earn a master of science in clinical exercise physiology degree at UT Tyler. A 1996 graduate, Cindy Koerner works as an exercise physiologist at a hospital in Lansing, Mich.

Important Contributor
UT Tyler’s health and kinesiology department moved in 2003 to its current location in the Herrington Patriot Center’s Jean Lancaster Academic Wing, which features first-class biomechanics, motor behavior and exercise physiology labs in addition to high-tech classrooms.

The department has experienced significant growth in student enrollment and the number of undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered. Its outstanding faculty continues to provide cutting-edge programs preparing students for success in professional positions or in further studies in health and kinesiology.

Dr. Ballard is an important contributor to those efforts.

She teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, and has overseen the thesis work of graduate students throughout her tenure at the university. Dr. Ballard has been on the faculty since 1975, with the exception of three years, when she taught at George Williams College near Chicago. She returned to UT Tyler in 1983.

“Our department was extremely active early on, before many other schools, in terms of student thesis work,’’ said Dr. McCoy. “Dr. Ballard worked closely with those students, involving them in research and taking them to professional meetings where they gave presentations. That was very strong for our department.’’

In addition to involving students in her osteoporosis research, Dr. Ballard directed a Phase III outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program at the university for several years. The program provided invaluable experience to students and a vital service to local physicians and their patients. She also has supervised her students in clinical rotations in the community. Dr. Ballard is very passionate about teaching,’’ Dr. McCoy said. “She relates well with students and is dedicated to helping them reach their potential. She has created great loyalty among students, they highly respect her and I believe she serves as a great model for them.’’

The Osteoporosis Question
In 1980, Dr. Ballard’s mother suffered a compression fracture and was diagnosed with osteoporosis. Dr. Ballard, who was then teaching at George Williams, consulted with a physician at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago about her mother’s condition.

“During our conversation, when he found out that I was an exercise physiologist, he said, ‘We think that exercise might be helpful (in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis), but we aren’t sure,’’ Dr. Ballard recalled. “He said, ‘We don’t know what kind of exercise or how much or how little might help. You ought to do some research on this.’ ’’

After returning to UT Tyler in 1983, Dr. Ballard secured an internal grant to establish the university’s Osteoporosis Research Project.

The professor placed ads with local print and broadcast media, seeking postmenopausal women ages 50 to 68, considered a high-risk group for osteoporosis, to participate in bone density studies. She signed up about 100 participants and planned to take them to Texas Women’s University in Denton for bone density testing. “There was a new $20,000 machine that was manufactured for testing bone density. The closest one to Tyler was at Texas Women’s University,’’ Dr. Ballard said.

As it turned out, her group did not have to travel to Denton. One of her participants handed her a $20,000 contribution for the purchase of a bone densitometer for UT Tyler. The donor requested anonymity.

“When she came to be tested, she handed me an envelope and asked that I not open it until she left. So I waited, and then I went into my office, sat down and opened the envelope. I’ll never forget it. I just sat there in a trance. I couldn’t believe what was in that envelope. So that’s how I got started in osteoporosis research,’’ she said, adding that the Tyler community has been very supportive of her work.

UT Tyler became the only facility in East Texas equipped to test bone mineral density. In addition to testing participants in her studies, Dr. Ballard also accepted patient referrals from area physicians for the first couple of years, until a Tyler hospital became equipped to do so. Bone mineral density testing for Dr. Ballard’s studies has been conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler since 1993, when the two institutions partnered to purchase a DEXA scanner for measuring bone density.

Dr. Ballard began examining the effects of exercise on bone density in 1985, after completing preliminary studies. She met with her participants three days a week on campus for a time of walking and light weightlifting. The professor continued the regimen over a five-year period, retesting her participants’ bone density every six months and comparing them to control groups that did not follow the regime.

“A group of women who swam at the YWCA wanted to be tested. I told them to keep swimming and I would monitor them as I was monitoring the walkers. I didn’t know if walking was going to help; maybe swimming would be the best thing,’’ Dr. Ballard said. “The study showed that walking and lifting light weights – weight-bearing activity – was helpful in reducing the risk of bone loss. Swimming doesn’t do much for bone density, because it doesn’t put stress on the bones.’’

Dr. Ballard was among researchers finding that weight-bearing exercise – activities that increased the force of gravity against bones – helped preserve bone mass. Weight-bearing activities include walking, hiking, jogging, stair-climbing, tennis and dancing. Swimming and bicycling are examples of nonweight- bearing exercise.

Her osteoporosis prevention exercise group, which includes some of her longtime study participants, continues to meet three days a week at UT Tyler. The format, based on her research, includes walking and floor exercises.

“We walk about 40 minutes and some of them do just a little bit of weightlifting, and then we do 30 minutes of floor exercise. We do stretching and extension type exercises to keep spinal muscles strong and exercises for abdominal muscles that support the pelvis. Our program is really quite vigorous, considering that many of the participants are in their mid- to late 70s and some are over 80 now,’’ the professor said.

“It’s been a win-win situation,’’ Dr. Ballard said, adding, “They think that I have kept them active and that I’m responsible for their good health, but I tell them I just keep the class going. I don’t come to their houses every day and get them to come over here. They are very dedicated about coming.’’

In addition to evaluating the role of physical activity on bone density, Dr. Ballard has examined bone density in diverse populations, including Caucasian pre- and postmenopausal women and elderly men, African American postmenopausal women and, mostly recently, Hispanic pre- and postmenopausal women. She also has studied medications affecting bone density; the role of exercise on fall prevention; and cervical spine bone density in women with chronic neck pain.

Dr. Ballard has publications in numerous scientific refereed journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity and the International Journal of Sports Medicine. She also has made professional conference presentations at scientific meetings across the nation.

“I’ve been impressed by how many areas Dr. Ballard has investigated in regards to osteoporosis,’’ said UTHSCT radiologist and associate professor Dr. David Di Paolo, who assists her in the interpretation of bone density studies.

“I did some lecturing on the topic of the DEXA examination and osteoporosis and needed to get more information in preparation for those talks. I was impressed with how many times I would come across Dr. Ballard’s name when I was going through research literature,’’ Dr. Di Paolo said.

“And it wasn’t just the same study or the same population group. You could tell she had a very inquiring mind, looking at various areas. One study looked at fall prevention, other studies examined bone density in women, men and different ethnic groups...Dr. Ballard has added to what we now know about osteoporosis in many different ways.’’

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