Return of the dynamic duo

Physics professor and kinesiology professor team up again for the second-ever distance running class

More stories from Meghan Hosely



On saturday mornings, students and community members gather in Haas Fine Arts Center before hitting the trails around Eau Claire. The routes typically take students along parts of the Chippewa River State Trail.

Editor’s note: Hosely is the media relations intern for the Blugold Mile.

Sometimes ideas are born in dreams, sometimes they’re born at a desk and sometimes they’re born in a parking lot after swim practice.

UW-Eau Claire professors Matt Evans and Tracy Yengo were chatting after a swim practice in the summer of 2014 when they came up with the idea of starting a distance running class for the following spring semester – one that was modeled after a class at the University of Minnesota.

“I just stumbled upon seemingly the only other person at the university who said, ‘Yes! I want to do a distance running class!’” Evans said.

As the pair talked, Evans said everything fell into place. As a professor in the physics department, Evans said he would have needed a professor from the department of kinesiology because of the nature of the course. Since the course is centered on physical activity, that’s why Evans needed someone like Yengo to help.

Not that it was a hard sell for either professors to sign on. Both Yengo and Evans are no strangers to the sport of running, as they have both been running since their teenage years.

Yengo grew up on the Jersey shore and lived near a boardwalk, which she said she loved to run on. It wasn’t until college when Yengo got into long distance running. During her college years, she said, she was more involved in running 5k’s and 10k’s.

“It’s every part of my being, literally since I was thirteen,” she said. “I would buy every copy of Runner’s World Magazine to read as much as I could about running, and I couldn’t wait to buy a new pair of running shoes.”

Evans got his start in the sport in middle school as well when he started running track in the seventh grade. While he liked it, Evans was quick to admit he was “horrible” at the sport that eventually grew on him.

He ran all throughout his high school years, but instead of running in college like his counterpart, Evans decided to explore recreational running and marathons.

The running background for both professors is what fueled their desire to bring a distance running class to Eau Claire. Evans said while he and Yengo wanted the same outcome from the class, their reasons for starting the class were different, but complementary.

Ultimately, Evans hoped to create a class that wasn’t centered on times and competition, but long-term goal setting. He wanted to create a culture in the class that balanced both fun and camaraderie.

Yengo, he said, is “highly concerned” about student’s long-term welfare and she wanted to create an “influential” class that benefits the student body of Eau Claire.

“Since Tracy and I had so much enthusiasm,” Evans said, “it was a perfect match to bring both of our very different talents together.”

The enthusiasm seemingly paid off, as the second year of the Distance Running Class is underway now. Yengo said she and Evans took last year’s participant advice and switched the class from one credit to two.

A new aspect of the class this year is a lecture portion offered during the week. This not only allows for more relationship building but gives the runners more time on Saturday to complete their weekly long runs for training.

The result, she said, was an increase in enrollment, along with runners returning from last year.

“I would speculate … it was that rewarding and fulfilling feeling,” Yengo said of the returning students. “It’s worth their time.”

It was rewarding for the runners to complete a half or full marathon last May, Evans said, and the Blugold Mile helped a lot of runners by giving them the final push they needed to complete the race.

“(People’s personal records) went out the window with the really hot weather last year,” Evans said. “Because of the energy coming from campus, they had a lasting memory that was positive and that’s huge.”