In Memoriam: Former ACSM President Barbara L. Drinkwater, Ph.D., FACSM

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In Memoriam: Former ACSM President Barbara L. Drinkwater, Ph.D., FACSM

NiCole R. Keith, Ph.D., FACSM |  Oct. 8, 2019
Barbara L. Drinkwater, PhD, FACSM memorial

On Monday, September 30th, Barbara Drinkwater, Ph.D., FACSM, passed away in Gold Canyon, AZ.  Dr. Drinkwater left an extraordinary legacy on sport, medicine and science.

Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.” -Clare Boothe Luce.

Dr. Drinkwater’s successes were unprecedented and clearly demonstrated that she and the women she influenced, had and have what it takes. Dr. Drinkwater bravely pioneered the way for girls and women in sport, medicine, science and leadership. Always a competitive athlete, her career began as a physical educator, women’s basketball coach and swimming instructor. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Douglas College (now Rutgers University), a Master of Science degree at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and a Ph.D. degree in sports psychology from Purdue University. Dr. Drinkwater’s research career as an exercise physiologist began at the Institute of Environmental Stress, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She continued at the University of Washington in the Department of Kinesiology and concluded her academic and research career at the Pacific Medical Center in the Department of Medicine, where she led the Osteoporosis Research Laboratory.

Her relationship with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) began in 1966, shortly thereafter, she published a book chapter on the topic of women and exercise. This led to other leadership opportunities including speaking engagements, serving on 15 ACSM committees and an opportunity to run for the Board of Trustees. She was elected as a ACSM trustee, vice president and president (1988-1989) – the first woman to be elected to all three positions. Her contributions to medicine, science and physical performance has been recognized by ACSM through her receipt of both the Citation (1984) and Honor (1996) Awards. She also delivered the D.B. Dill Historical Lecture in 1989 and the Wolffe Memorial Lecture in 1994.

A native of New Jersey, she never lost tremendous stature both physically and intellectually. She had a wonderful wit and used it to put people at ease as she developed hypotheses about girls’ and women’s health and physical performance, while challenging existing data prior to and following Title IX. Spanning her career, she specifically focused on the topics of thermoregulation; aging; and menstrual function, bone health, and exercise. She was the first research scientist to advise that comparisons of the physiological performances of men and women must account for body size. She also led the discovery of the relationship among amenorrhea, disordered eating, and osteoporosis - known as the female athlete triad.

Barbara Drinkwater Quote

Dr. Drinkwater was an icon, role model, and mentor who not only through her research, improved and saved lives of girls and women but also made a positive impact on the careers of physicians, educators and scientists who were women, through her mentorship. In 2016, Susan D. Carter, Ph.D., FACSM, reported that as ACSM president-elect, Dr. Drinkwater noted “…there was not a single black member on any committee. So, I formed a new committee tasked with identifying and recruiting black members for the various committees.” Dr, Drinkwater was a lifelong champion of diversity and told me I would be the first black president of ACSM, many times. When I recently visited with her on Vashon Island, and reminded her of this she said, “I should have spent more time in casinos.” But then quickly and quite seriously, reminded me of my responsibilities to other women and minorities. Her humor, bravery, creativity, positivity, diplomacy, tenacity, brilliance, and the way she made us feel when she stared us with her steel blue eyes and flashed her big bright smile as she told us to get to work, will be sorely missed.  

Acknowledgements:  I am thankful to Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., FACSM, Susan Carter, Ph.D., FACSM, Rosemary D’Agostini, M.D., FACSM, Patricia Freedson, Ph.D., FACSM, Anne Loucks Ph.D., FACSM, and Jack Berryman, Ph.D., FACSM with their assistance in preparing this tribute.

NiCole R. Keith, Ph.D., FACSM, ACSM Incoming President, 2020

Barbara Drinkwater was a role model for all women in ACSM.  As our first female President, she broke through the ‘glass ceiling’ and spoke to our female members about leadership in ACSM. Her message was that leadership is possible and it is critical to have a voice. Barbara cared deeply about many things. As a founding member of Women Sports International, she spoke of the need to eliminate injustice for female athletes. On her home land of Vashon Island she achieved that no animal would homeless or neglected. Barbara was an icon for all who followed. We looked up to her and strived to walk her path professionally and with integrity. Barbara will be remembered by many and for years to come.  

Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D. M.P.H., FACSM, ACSM Past President, 2011-12

Barbara had a commitment to helping women achieve their professional goals. As a personal example, my first experience with Barbara was after a talk she gave at ACSM in 1976.  While she was surrounded by many people, I asked her if she had any job openings. She stopped and looked straight into my eyes. She then told me to send my resume and a letter of research interests. I did so and months later I had a postdoc working with someone else at the Institute of Environmental Stress at UCSB. 

Barbara had an intense desire to demonstrate that women were up to the task, no matter what. For example, we were having dinner together at an Annual Meeting. During our meandering conversation, I asked about her 1970 NIH grant that was directed toward the responses of middle aged women to exercise in a hot, humid environment. It was the first to use only women as subjects.

She simply said, “I just wanted to show that we could do it.”

And so she so many ways.

Charlotte “Toby” Tate, PhD, FACSM, ACSM Past President, 1998-99