September 2000

A great experiment of one
Pierce says scholarship, diet and exercise will lead to long, fulfilling life

Bill Pierce calls life and physical health "a great experiment of one."

For the health and exercise and science professor, the experiment and lifelong doctrine includes a healthy diet, regular exercise and scholarship. And so far it seems to be going extremely well.

This month, at the age of 50, Pierce will go to Berlin to compete in his 24th marathon, where he will also be researching the 1936 Olympics. He completed his last 26.2 mile road race a year ago in three hours and six minutes. That's a seven-minute mile (faster than some of us sprint).

A West Virginia native, Pierce is a picture of health for any age. His weekly exercise routine includes weight lifting, running 25-30 miles and tennis. Pierce is also particular about his diet but says rumors about his finicky eating habits "have probably been greatly exaggerated over the years."

The professor's level of physical fitness and training regimen has become a well-known legend at Furman. Afterall, he's been at the university for 17 years and is a regular in the Fitness Center. And few Furman employees have not seen him racing along campus jogging trails. But there are a few things about Pierce that most do not know.

Before coming to Furman, he was a successful athletics director and basketball coach at two colleges. As an undergraduate at Davidson, Pierce was a point guard on a team that was ranked as high as second in the nation and played under legendary coaches Lefty Driesel and Terry Holland. Pierce also played professional basketball for a short while in Spain.

Despite his athletic and coaching accomplishments teaching has been and remains his first joy. But it was a profession he fell into almost by accident. After graduating from Davidson in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in political science, Pierce was planning to make a career in public administration or attend law school when he saw a flier posted outside a gym at West Virginia University advertising a new master's program - Master of Sports Study. Pierce, who was on campus visiting friends, was taken with the subject. Within a few hours he had made plans to enroll.

"It was a study concentrating on why we play sports. I had been playing sports all my life so I thought it was fascinating," he says. "This scholarly interest in sport has led over the past 20 years to regular presentations at professional societies and publications in national journals."

While taking classes at WVU, Pierce remained active in basketball, through coaching and playing semi-professional basketball. In 1974, he traveled abroad and played professional basketball for a team in Malaga, Spain, where he also coached a high school and youth team.

After returning to the United States Pierce was named the assistant basketball coach at Bluefield College in western Virginia, just 10 miles from where he grew up. In a twist of fate, however, the head basketball coach resigned a week later. Pierce at 25 was named his successor.

A tactician and motivator, Pierce thrived as a college coach. Before he took over, the Bluefield team had completed a three-win season. He coached the Ramblin' Rams to a 12-10 record in 1975 and a 16-10 season the following year. In 1976, Pierce took over the head coaching and athletic director duties at nearby Clinch Valley College (now the University of Virginia at Wise) where he inherited a 1-25 team. In two seasons he worked to improve the team, compiling a respectable 18-36 record.

But coaching was taking its toll. "It was incredibly demanding of my time and my emotions," Pierce says. "It began to take away from my teaching. I made a decision to choose between the two."

In 1978, he resigned his post at Clinch Valley and enrolled in Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia) where he earned his Ed.D in physical education.

Pierce served as an assistant professor at Idaho State University from 1980-83 before joining Furman. He was named the department chair in 1984 and remained in that position until stepping down in May for a well-deserved sabbatical.

During this one-year absence Pierce will research the 1936 and 1980 Olympic games, which were both overshadowed by international conflict. He will also study training techniques at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.


Employee profile
Bill Pierce



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Inside Furman is published monthly during the school year by the Furman University Department of Marketing and Public Relations. For story ideas, e-mail John Roberts, editor.