Editor's Note: In January 2019, Olivia McAnirlin '17 was accepted into the University of Illinois' Recreation, Sport, and Tourism PhD program, bringing her one step closer to her dream of teaching postsecondary education.

The Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) has published an article by Olivia McAnirlin ’17 based on research she conducted at Colby-Sawyer. McAnirlin’s research focused on collecting quantitative and qualitative data, and her publication similarly combines her passion for science-based research and storytelling.

As a first-year student, McAnirlin learned about a research opportunity with former Assistant Professor of Exercise and Sport Sciences Jeremy Baker that would investigate the physiological effects of hiking the Appalachian Trail. She teamed up with Dr. Baker and followed the project for four years, from the preliminary research protocol and literature review to data collection and analysis.

“It's pretty uncommon for an undergraduate student to have the opportunity to be part of a research project for four years,” McAnirlin said. “It made me really appreciate the scientific process.”

Along with Robert Madden ’18 and Chris Manwaring ’18, McAnirlin and Baker visited Hot Springs, N.C., twice to collect data on thru-hikers. They then tested the same 30 hikers when they reached Hanover, N.H. The students are working to write, edit and publish a manuscript of their research, which suggests long-distance trekking improves muscular power and aerobic capacity while contributing to lower body weight and ankle flexibility. Further outcomes will be reported in upcoming publications.

McAnirlin stands outside a large building that reads "Miami University."
McAnirlin is studying kinesiology at Miami University and hopes to go on to receive her Ph.D. Photo courtesy of Olivia McAnirlin.

McAnirlin was quick to note in “Takeaways from My Time on the Trail: Exploring the People Who Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail” that they also collected the hikers’ stories.

“We got more than just data on body fat from these hikers; we gathered experiences,” said McAnirlin, who is from Newport, Maine, just two hours from the final leg of the Appalachian Trail.

While at Colby-Sayer, McAnirlin gained professional skills in her program’s clinical lab space, but she appreciated her liberal arts classes. She likewise gained a deep appreciation for interdisciplinary study as a member of the Wesson Honors Program.

McAnirlin discovered WMS while presenting her research at the New Hampshire IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NH-INBRE) annual meeting in 2017. The organization’s magazine and its encouragement of narrative-driven articles seemed like a natural fit for her.

NH-INBRE also supported McAnirlin’s research. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, NH-INBRE promotes the development, coordination and sharing of biomedical research resources within the state.

McAnirlin is pursuing a qualitative master’s thesis on women leaders in outdoor recreation at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She plans to use her thesis to further explore the place of storytelling in science and hopes that her research will increase the number of women who participate in recreational opportunities.

Read McArlin’s article in Wilderness Medicine Magazine here.