August 11, 1929 - March 28, 2010
Elsworth R. Buskirk received a B.A. in biology and physical education from St. Olaf College, a master's degree in physical education from the University of Minnesota, and, in 1954, a Ph.D. in physiology, also from the University of Minnesota. After completing his Ph.D., Buskirk worked as chief of the Environmental Physiology Section at the Quartermaster Research and Development Center in Natick, Massachusetts. From 1957 to 1963, he held the position of research physiologist at the National Institutes of Health, and, in 1963, he became a faculty member in the Department of Physiology at the Pennsylvania State University.
Throughout his career, Buskirk did research in many different areas of applied physiology and human nutrition including a brief period in which he studied the physiological effects of high altitude on athletes. In 1965, Buskirk, J. Kollias, E. Picon-Reatigue, R. Akers, E. Prokop, and Paul Baker conducted their study, "Physiology and Performance of Track Athletes at Various Altitudes in the United States and Peru." Buskirk's work along with several related concurrent research projects on the physiological effects of altitude flourished because of increased interest in applying high altitude studies to aerospace medicine in the 1950s and 1960s, and because of growing concern about the training to give US athletes to prepare them for the 1968 Olympic Games scheduled in Mexico City.
Buskirk and his associates hypothesized that hypoxia and training of track athletes at high altitudes would improve running performance and maximal oxygen uptake upon return to lower altitudes. To test this hypothesis, they studied the athletic performance and physiology of six male collegiate track athletes from the Pennyslvania State University at various locations and altitudes including: Nunoa, Peru 13,000 feet); Mount Evans, Colorado (14,200 feet); Adams State College, Alamosa, Colorado (7,500 feet); the National Jewish Hospital, Denver, Colorado (5,200 feet); and the Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania (900 feet). At these various locations, Buskirk and his associates tested athletic performance through time trials of running events and through measuring the time of sustained bicycle riding. They also tracked the following physiological parameters: hematocrit, hemoglobin, plasma and blood volume, total body water, ventilation, maximal oxygen uptake, maximal heart rate, oxygen pulse, and oxygen debt. In discussing their results, Buskirk and his associates found that training at high altitude "had no deleterious effects on subsequent performance at lower altitudes." They also noted that "there is also the suggestion that certain runners may perform in a superior fashion following return from altitude for reasons that are not clear." They presented the results of this work in March of 1966 at the International Symposium on the Effects of Altitude on Physical Performance, co-sponsored by the United States Olympic Committee, the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research, and the University of New Mexico.
Elsworth R. Buskirk is a member of several professional and scholarly associations and is currently an emeritus professor of applied physiology and human nutrition at the Pennsylvania State University.