Nicole Mullins, an associate professor of human performance and exercise science at Youngstown State University, said she practices what she preaches.
The 39-year-old has competed in about 20 triathlons in the last four years, and she’s sharing those experiences with her class on Tuesday.
Mullins teaches advanced physical fitness and exercise programs in addition to her normal curriculum.
She said it’s not a class to get in shape, but to explore a variety of vigorous activities such as gymnastics, dance and strength activities, and interval or endurance exercises.
This semester, Mullins wants to emulate an actual triathlon.
The Giddy Up Triathlon begins at 4 p.m. on Tuesday during regularly scheduled class time.
Mullins said there is a lot more to a triathlon than just biking, swimming and running: It involves transitioning to and from events. The students will use helmets, swim caps, sunglasses and running numbers. Twelve exercise science volunteers are helping with the event.
The students will start in the Beeghly Center pool and then run over to the Andrews Student Recreation and Wellness Center to get on the spinning bikes and the track.
Mullins said she wants to ensure everyone’s safety. She also said she hopes all of her students attend the event to support one another.
“I want everybody there at once to cheer each other because some of these students are nervous,” Mullins said. “They’ve never done this together. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
Mullins said she loves triathlons because of what they can do for a person regardless of their fitness level.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re out there to win it, or if you’re out there and you’re 50 pounds overweight and you just want to see if you can do it. I mean, it’s so positive,” she said. “I think that everybody involved is just going to enjoy it.”
Mullins expects the volunteer students to employ what they are learning and eventually try a triathlon.
“I try to make it fun. When they’re running slow, I always tell them to giddy up,” Mullins said. “We used it after our work out the other day. We said ‘swim, bike, run, giddy up.’ So, I called it the Giddy Up Triathlon.”
The only restriction the class faces with the triathlon is the lack of actual bikes. The Rec Center’s bikes don’t have mileage markers, and the class will use spinning bikes.
“It’s one thing to be able to run three miles, and it’s another thing to do it after you’ve gotten off of a bicycle,” Mullins said.
She said most of her students are worried about the swim, and that some of them can’t swim very well. She gave them an option to use a kickboard. She said some of her students were motivated to learn how to swim.
Senior Alex Arnold said he plans to participate in his first triathlon in Cleveland after he completes the class.
“Just looking at her, she’s always got so much energy,” he said. “She’s really fit, but even with age, you can be very active.”
He said Mullins’ presence and energy are inspiring.
“We’ve learned that exercise gives you energy, and you can totally see it through her and all of the exercise science teachers,” Arnold said.
Mullins said she gave the students guidelines about nutrition and preparatory tasks. She also showed them triathlon YouTube videos, but when she showed them live in the Watson and Tressel Training Site, Mullins said her students had had more questions.
Mullins said it is crucial to plan, practice and remember to hydrate before the event.
“It’s all about getting good experiences with physical activity,” she said. “When people have good experiences with exercise, they tend to do it forever. … When someone has a bad experience, they choose to do something else. If the something else leads to inactivity for life, then we have the health problems that we have in America,” Mullins said.
Exercise science major Samantha Wilson said the class is intense, but everyone supports one another.
“I’m so excited, but I’m very nervous because I’m not a swimmer at all, and 12 lengths is going to be a lot for me,” Wilson said. “I love how she tells us to check our ego at the door because it is really important to make sure that you’re not over-pushing and over-working yourself.”
Mullins said her best motivational tool is leading by example. She said she is passionate about exercise.
“I lead by example, and anybody who knows me and my students know very clearly that I exercise,” she said. “I love exercise and what it does for any person. Not just the elite athlete, but for how it builds confidence and makes one more productive and more capable in the things that they do.”
Mullins teaches classes in pedagogical aspects to exercise science and exercise testing and prescription. She said plenty of avenues for exercise science majors exist for after graduation, such as rehabilitation, corporate fitness, commercial and sports performance.
A graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Mullins has an undergraduate degree in exercise science. She completed her master’s and doctorate degrees in exercise physiology at Kent State University.
While Mullins originally wanted to work in the U.S Olympic Training Center, designing programs specifically for athletes, the Maine native said she knew that she wanted to teach after working as a graduate assistant at KSU. She began teaching at YSU in 2002.
“I love being in the classroom. I applied to both Akron and YSU, and I really love my colleagues here. After being here for nine years, it’s not unusual for me to be here on a Saturday,” she said.
Mullins said she continues to do what she loves, and shares it with her students.
“I have a heavy teaching load, but I do try to be productive with research,” she said. “I do make sure I get my workouts in, or I wouldn’t be practicing what I’m preaching.”