George Mason University

News at Mason

Mile by Mile, Chemistry Professor Raises Money for His Endowed Scholarship

August 25, 2015

By Damian Cristodero

John Schreifels, chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Schreifels is less than 1,600 miles from having run the equivalent of the circumference of the earth. He wants to use the final miles to help fund an endowed scholarship. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

John Schreifels, chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Schreifels is less than 1,600 miles from having run the equivalent of the circumference of the earth. He wants to use the final miles to help fund an endowed scholarship. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

This is how a lifelong runner is created—by delivering newspapers in the small town of Wallace in northwestern Idaho, where snow can be on the ground from October through April.

“A lot of times there was too much snow to ride a bicycle,” said John Schreifels, who as a kid delivered papers in the town 50 miles east of Coeur d’Alene. “When it’s 20-below and you’re delivering papers, you want to move pretty fast.”

For Schreifels, 66, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at George Mason University, speed no longer is of the essence.

Now, it’s about the miles and how they can help fund the endowment for the John A. Schreifels Chemistry Scholarship given through the College of Science.

“I always wanted to give back to people and society,” Schreifels said. “We need people to help us figure out what we should do. If I can do my little part by raising money for this, it would be fantastic.”

John Schreifels, chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

John Schreifels, chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Schreifels figures that since his passion for running was reignited in 1991 by a doctor who after a physical pronounced him “soft,” he has run 23,216 miles, all well-documented on a spreadsheet. As of Aug. 24, he needed 1,576 more miles to reach 24,901, equaling—and how cool is this?—the circumference of the Earth. If enough people pledge donations for his final push, Schreifels hopes the endowment, currently $40,000, will reach $50,000.

Scholarships given the past two years were for $300 and $500, respectively,

“That’s the thing about John, he’s such a giving person,” said Donna Fox, associate dean for student affairs at the College of Science. “He really wants to leave something behind to the students that will be meaningful.”

Schreifels began the endowment in 2008 with $3,000 received from Mason for a Teaching Excellence Award and said he donates each month from his paycheck. Colleagues have pledged as much as a dime for every mile he runs.

And he runs—an average 4.3 miles a day, he said—no matter the obstacle.

Shortly after starting the endowment, Schreifels had surgery for prostate cancer. The day he was released from the hospital, he insisted on walking what Diane, his wife of 35 years, called “a victory lap” on his basement treadmill.

To stay away from the dogs he said occasionally attacked him as he ran through his Warrenton, Va., neighborhood, Schreifels for the past 10 years has run almost exclusively on the treadmill, usually at 4:30 a.m.

“An unusual alarm clock,” Diane said.

“People say, ‘How can you run on a treadmill in front of a wall?’” Schreifels said. “It gives me a chance to think about things for the day.”

Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and an editor at-large for Runners World magazine, has a website that tracks runners with as many as 250,000 miles. He called Schreifels’ round-the-world mileage “significant.”

That it is part of a greater good is the bonus.

To donate to the endowment, go here.