Cureton Profiled as University of Illinois Innovator
Profile of Professor Thomas K. Cureton, known as the father of physical fitness, premiered on July 17, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) on Big Ten Network. Dr. Cureton taught at the University of Illinois from 1941 to 1969. Watch the Big Ten video about Cureton.
About Thomas K. Cureton
Dr. Thomas K. Cureton, often referred to as "the Father of Physical Fitness," began his professional life by earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Yale University. He then switched course and went on to receive a master's degree from Springfield College and a doctoral degree from Columbia University. After spending ten years teaching and doing research at Springfield College, he came to the University of Illinois, where he was responsible for the development and leadership of the Physical Fitness Research Laboratory. Through his long tenure as speaker, researcher, author, advisor, and vigorous participant in fitness activities, Dr. Cureton became known as one of the leading fitness experts in the United States.
In its early days, the Physical Fitness Research Laboratory was best known for developing methods to test motor fitness and to appraise human physique, cardiovascular fitness, and aquatic performance. Since 1949, when the first graduates from the lab established their own careers, hundreds more have taken places around the world as significant leaders and contributors to the field of physical fitness. Cureton was interested in researching the overall make-up of elite performers so he could describe and predict athletic performance and success. In 1947, Olympic athletes from throughout the Midwest were brought to the lab for a series of tests.
In addition to the Physical Fitness Research Laboratory, Dr. Cureton also established programs that benefit local community members by teaching adults and youth the importance of exercise and correct exercise techniques. These programs continue today as part of the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health in the College of Applied Health Sciences. Dr. Cureton started the Adult Fitness Program in the early 1960's, and it continues to thrive. In the Lifetime Fitness Program, as it is now called, adults of all ages gather to begin the day with a vigorous physical workout. Participants are also provided fitness evaluations through a variety of ongoing research projects in the Physical Fitness Research Laboratory. Within the Champaign-Urbana community, Dr. Cureton and the Physical Fitness Research Laboratory became best known for their work promoting fitness among both youth and adults. The Summer Youth Sports Fitness Program was initiated in 1951 to serve local boys. The program continues today as staff and students from the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health lead activities and fitness evaluations for more than 100 boys and girls each summer.
In the years following his retirement from the University of Illinois, Dr. Cureton remained a vigorous participant in physical fitness activities, setting performance records in swimming while continuing to lead fitness camps around the country. As he put it, exercise helps you "add years to your life, and life to your years."