Photo Credit: Emily Patrick
Flagpole does not run marathons, and Flagpole does not do science, but Ming Fung, who does both, made Flagpole feel as if we could also. Ming has a way of talking about her extraordinary accomplishments—five marathons in just over a year and graduate studies in veterinary and biomedical science—that makes them seem accessible. She talks about the runner’s mindset in a way that would encourage anyone to lace up a pair of shoes and pound the pavement, and she explains the workings of Chagas disease—the focus of her studies—so clearly that it’s easy to forget she is inevitably oversimplifying for her listener’s sake.
Ming is inspiring, but she is also incredibly approachable. While she hopes to enrich the world through her study of infectious disease one day, she also enjoys the interaction with the local community through her job at a running store. Besides marathons and parasites, she loves dogs, Chipotle, her hometown of Washington, D.C. and Madison, WI.
Flagpole: What do you do at Athens Running Company?
Ming Fung: I help sell shoes and also the other things they have there. Basically, if someone’s coming in looking for shoes, I help fit them by analyzing their gait and also how their body absorbs shock. Especially with new runners, you want to be really encouraging, and also with veteran runners, you want to be like, “Yeah, you’re awesome, too.” Basically, just make people feel comfortable in starting something like an exercise program.
FP: Are you a runner?
MF: I am.
FP: When did you start running?
MF: A little less than two years ago. I started because—I’m from D.C.—we had this huge snowstorm that lasted for two weeks, so I was cooped up in my house for two weeks, and then afterwards, I was like, “I need to be outside as much as possible,” because I had cabin fever like crazy. I was like, “OK, I’m just going to pick up and start running because I’m tired of being inside.”
FP: So, you mentioned you run marathons. How far is that, exactly?
MF: 26 miles.
FP: When did you start doing those?
MF: I ran my first marathon about eight months into running, and I’ve done four since then, so I’ve basically done a marathon every semester I’ve been here because I’ve been here for, like, a year and a half. I’m starting my fifth semester here.
FP: How did you train up for that?
MF: Since it was a new activity, and it took a lot of time, it took a lot of adjustment for my time management, being back in school. I’d been out of school for three years—I was working. So, being able to set my priorities to be able to balance both of [those things], it was tricky in the beginning, but as I started running more marathons, I could see what I could kind of cut out when school was being too overwhelming and that kind of stuff.
FP: Had you ever thought you might run a marathon prior to that?
MF: No. Well, that’s the thing: I never ran in high school or college. I played volleyball, and I did martial arts all my life. I have my own dojo back at home. I’m obviously not running it right now because I’m down here. But I was like, “I can’t run a mile.” And then one day out of the blue, I said, “Oh, I’ll just see how far I can go.” What a lot of people don’t realize with marathons and longer distances is that it’s 90 percent mental. If you go with the attitude, “Oh, no, I can’t run more than two miles,” that’s not the right mentality.
FP: So, how does it feel to run a marathon?
MF: The first 20 miles is awesome. Miles 20 to 25 are like, “Why did I do this?” And the last mile is awesome, too. So, you go in feeling great; you feel terrible for a little bit, and then, you feel amazing at the end.
FP: Do you go eat a whole pizza or something when you’re done?
MF: Yeah, pretty much. Actually, it’s really funny: when I ran my first marathon I was back at home, and my best friend had Chipotle waiting for me at the end. We love Chipotle, and she had it waiting for me at the finish line.
FP: So, you’re originally from D.C.?
MF: I’m from Maryland, like 15 minutes outside of D.C.
FP: How long did you live there?
MF: Basically all my life. I lived in Wisconsin for two years for the first two years of my undergrad, and I moved back because it was expensive, and I wanted to be closer to home.
FP: Why did you choose Wisconsin?
MF: I guess I wanted to be away from home for a little while, and just try to live in another place for a little while. It was the best school I went to, and I visited it, and I fell in love with it immediately.
FP: Which school?
MF: University of Wisconsin at Madison. I love Madison. It’s a really nice town… It is cold, but it’s not as bad as people say it is. There’s one or two weeks where you can’t leave your house, but every week after that, it just seems warmer.
FP: What did you study?
MF: I studied biology.
FP: So, where did you work in D.C. after you graduated?
MF: I worked at the National Science Foundation, which is a science funding agency for the government. So, I reviewed proposals and stuff like that. I’ve always been interested in diseases—infectious diseases and parasites—so, that’s basically what brought me here. I wanted to research that… I’m in vet school as a grad student… I’m hopefully going to be getting a master’s soon.
FP: What do you want to do when you get your degree?
MF: It’s a master’s in veterinary and biomedical sciences, so I’m thinking public health or maybe—I don’t know—maybe the CDC or the World Health Organization. I’m kind of all over the map, but I really like infectious diseases.
FP: That’s not something you hear people say very often.
MF: I know. It’s weird, because I’m really into parasites. It’s fascinating.
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