Good Life

State High teacher prepares for Pittsburgh Marathon

Doug Schunk, a chemistry teacher at State College Area High School, is training for the Pittsburgh Marathon.
Doug Schunk, a chemistry teacher at State College Area High School, is training for the Pittsburgh Marathon.

It was getting old.

At the back of Doug Schunk’s classroom in the North Building of State College Area High School, a succession of shrinking SCAHS drum line T-shirts are pinned to the wall.

These are mementos of his ongoing tenure as an instructor, an excellent use of white space and for the purposes of this story, a handy visual aid.

Over the course of just a few short years, Schunk has lost nearly 140 pounds — and everyone wanted his secret.

Students thought that he had cancer. Friends wondered if he had undergone gastric bypass surgery. Co-workers were hoping that he had stumbled across some sort of miracle diet.

The truth was much more mundane, which is possibly why when he was approached by yet another acquaintance looking for a shortcut to svelte, he felt the need to embellish.

“The secret is you eat the doughnuts with the holes in them — they have less calories,” Schunk said.

His actual secret isn’t so much a secret as it is a standard rule of human maintenance: eat well and in moderation and try to exercise regularly.

In Schunk’s case that means a lot of Greek yogurt, oatmeal and protein bars.

The “biggest T-shirt” phase of his life is long gone — now it’s all kind just a blur of sugar, fast food and binge snacking.

“That’s kind of like asking what was your life like before kids. You vaguely remember it,” Schunk said.

The arrival of his first child was what inspired Schunk to start taking his health seriously in the first place.

He was 28 years old and weighed 330 pounds. During a routine physical, the doctor told him that if he didn’t seriously consider changing his lifestyle, there could be dire consequences.

“It’s not about me,” Schunk said. “It’s making sure I’m going to be around for my son and now my daughter too.”

He started with the necessary adjustments to his diet and a couple of Beach Body workouts before eventually taking up running.

Schunk started small at first, building his way up to 4- or 5-mile runs before eventually convincing himself that he could handle a half-marathon.

His pace only increased from there. Last year he completed the Marine Corps Marathon and is training for the 2016 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon in May.

So far, his preparation has consisted of smaller runs punctuated by lengthier feats of impressive endurance — and it has been grueling.

“Last week was a cut-back week, and it was still 12 miles,” Schunk said

Physically, the effects have been like night and day. He calls his old driver’s license photo “the fun house” image of the lean visage that greets him in the mirror these days.

More important to Schunk is his increased stamina and energy, important qualities for any young dad on the go.

Pounding the pavement also helps the teacher clear his head after a stressful day.

“Just to be able to go out and clear your mind of everything that’s going on — that’s huge,” Schunk said.

He’s pleased that his conversion to clean living came just in time for his son and daughter’s formative years, making him the father of two kids who actually request broccoli for dinner.

“It’s kind of cool to see that my kids are liking steamed veggies,” Schunk said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready