A recent class she led…an idea for a new course…traveling abroad with students… Teaching was running through Julie Palmer-Schuyler’s head when she heard the chants, Webster, Webster! from the crowd. The Webster University associate professor for management was racing in her 17th IRONMAN competition—this time, on the global stage.
The Nebraska native, who has lived in St. Louis and taught at Webster for the past five years, fulfilled a dream that day: finishing the GoPro World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, despite dealing with a pulled muscle as she swam, biked and ran her way through the grueling 140.6-mile endurance race.
“You watch that on TV, and it’s the pinnacle of that distance—it’s like watching the Olympics.” Palmer-Schuyler became one of those triathlete stars she admired after years of hard work. “I tried qualifying for a number of years and wasn’t quite fast enough.” She came close twice, but fell just short of the required time. Then, her golden opportunity came through a lottery for triathletes who completed 12 or more IRONMAN competitions. She was chosen. And with her 84-year-old mom; husband, Pete; and best friend looking on, she crossed the finish line.
Palmer-Schuyler fell in love with triathlons after witnessing her younger brother complete the IRONMAN World Championship in 1996. “I thought, I would really like to surround myself with these people I admire, so I started joining training groups,” she explains. She commits to a 20- to 25-hour per week training schedule, often including 10 to 12 hours of cycling, 35 to 55 miles of running, and about 13,000 yards of swimming. She’s also a St. Louis Triathlon Club member, and she says a weekly group ride makes her faster. But when it comes to running, she prefers to sweat it out alone. “Just me and my Shuffle...” she says.
And the triathlete-teacher takes life lessons learned from endurance training and racing into the classroom. Among lessons she’s passed on, she says, “When you feel really bad and you think you can’t do something, a lot of times it’s a mental piece that’s missing. If you just give yourself some time, it will pass.”
Oftentimes, Palmer-Schuyler will challenge students to compete with her in a race. “And some have bested my time,” she admits, with a chuckle. “They’ll see me training in the weight room, and they’ll ask me for advice. It’s funny that a 49-year-old is imparting advice on 21- and 22-year-olds, but it’s fun to see some of them who have decided to address this bad eating habit or that lack of exercise habit, and improve throughout the year.”
Those are just the type of goals Palmer-Schuyler sets for students in her human resource management courses for undergraduates. “We do a personal change project, where each student chooses a bad [health] habit and set goals to change them. It helps them see how difficult it is to change themselves, because they will be working in organizations to get people to become healthier.” Last year, Palmer-Schuyler, who also serves as director of the doctorate in management program, was lauded for her teaching excellence with the 2013 Kemper Award, an honor typically bestowed on professors with more years of experience.
Among teaching highlights this year, Palmer-Schuyler just returned from Brazil—where she also recently completed her 18th IRONMAN competition. This time around, the triathlete was wearing her teaching hat, leading what Webster calls a Global Hybrid course for undergrad and graduate students by exposing them to the culture and management practices of major corporations in the country.
Whether she is teaching or racing, Palmer-Schuyler says her family—and her Webster family—have supported her all the way. “People always say, How do you manage to do so much?, and it really wouldn’t be possible without my very supportive family and my husband picking up the slack while I am away. And I wear Webster everywhere I race.”