[The Montana Professor 21.2, Spring 2011 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

A Botched Retirement? Five Books in Five Years

Brian Sharkey
HHP (Emeritus)

—Brian Sharkey
Brian Sharkey

I arrived on the Missoula campus in the fall of 1964, having been hired for my position through a telephone call, as sometimes occurred in those days before the advent of AA/EO procedures. I had never before been farther west than Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was with no small sense of adventure, then, that I loaded my wife, Barbara, our 3-year-old daughter, and our 5-month-old son into our covered wagon, a Volkswagen sedan, and headed into the setting sun toward Missoula, Montana.

My job description included teaching, directing the Human Performance Laboratory, and coordinating a cooperative research agreement with the Forest Service's Missoula Equipment Development Center (MEDC). The purpose of the agreement was to conduct research projects to improve the health, safety, and performance of wildland firefighters. Senator Mike Mansfield introduced the agreement on the floor of the U.S. Senate (Congressional Record, December, 1963), "...so that my colleagues here in the Senate may be more fully informed on this unique project." Grad students and I studied the physiological demands of the work, energy and hydration requirements, smoke exposure, uniforms, and tools, and we developed work capacity tests. The agreement with the Forest Service helped me make some career decisions. I applied for a U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare post-doctoral fellowship in research and development (R&D), and spent the 1967-68 academic year at Pennsylvania State University. R&D is a process used to find evidence-based solutions to real-world problems. It includes defining the problem, lab and field research, development, evaluation, and dissemination of findings and revised procedures to workers in the field.

With my research efforts and our work with the Forest Service I found I enjoyed translating research into usable products, disseminating information and programs. In addition, I needed a way to fill Montana's long winter evenings, so I decided to compile the latest information on physical activity, fitness, and weight control. I refined the draft with classroom use, and published Physiological Fitness and Weight Control in 1974 (Mountain Press), thereby initiating an acquired behavior (habit) of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed conceiving, outlining, and writing books. For a number of years my custom was to write for three hours a night, five nights a week.

In 1975 I completed Physiology and Physical Activity, a textbook with Harper and Row, written as part of a series edited by my first UM graduate student, Rainer Martens. I revised, expanded and re-titled the first book and in 1979 released Physiology of Fitness, a 400-page tome with Human Kinetics, a new publishing company founded by Rainer Martens. He thought he could do at least as well as the established publishing companies, and he was right. From its humble beginning in Rainer's garage in Champaign, Illinois, Human Kinetics has become the largest publisher of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine books in the world. Over the years I have written a dozen books and contributed to several more; most but not all were published by Human Kinetics. In 1984 I published Training for Cross-country Ski Racing based on our work with the athletes of the U.S. Ski Team.

Some books were my idea and some were requested by the publisher. In 1986 I completed Coaches Guide to Sport Physiology, requested by Human Kinetics for its American Coaching Effectiveness Program. Many months later I received a letter from two Japanese scholars who were coming to the United States and wanted to visit. When they arrived I was shocked to learn that they had just translated the Sport Physiology book and wanted me to autograph their copies. I tried to hide the fact that I didn't know the translation was in progress. They presented me with gifts, including lovely earrings for my wife, and I made a feeble attempt to reciprocate. After their visit I called the publisher, and he swore that I had been notified by mail, and that the contract had a provision for translations. Since then several other books have been translated into one or more languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Serbian, Japanese, and Korean. In 1991 I released New Dimensions in Aerobic Fitness, Monograph #1 in Human Kinetics' Exercise Science Series. Over the years I completed new editions of previously published books, including Fitness and Work Capacity, a U.S. Government book published in 1977 and revised in 1997.

Aside from several years as an academic dean at the University of Northern Colorado (1986-89), I remained associated with UM until I retired in 1997. My retirement plan was to do some consulting, some writing, and spend lots of time with family and friends, and to travel with my wife. That plan worked well, with travel to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and to Australia and New Zealand. However, in 2006 Barbara passed away unexpectedly, altering our retirement plan. From that year to 2010 I completed five books in five years. In 2006 we published Sport Physiology for Coaches, requested by Human Kinetics for use in coaching education classes. I asked Dr. Steve Gaskill to join me in that effort. Steve and I met in 1980 when he was a coach with the U.S. Ski Team Nordic program, and I was a sport physiologist working with the team. Steve served as liaison between the coaches and the Nordic Sports Medicine Council that I coordinated. Rainer Martens was the team's sport psychologist./1/ Steve eventually earned a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Minnesota, and joined the University of Montana faculty in 2000. We worked well together so I asked Steve to join me on the 6th edition of Fitness and Health, published in 2007.

In 2008 I collaborated with Dr. Paul Davis on Hard Work, a book about physically demanding occupations, such as wildland firefighting and the military. Dr. Davis has over thirty years of experience studying the physical requirements for the military, structural firefighting, and law enforcement. Paul and I sold that book idea to Rainer Martens and Human Kinetics over breakfast at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. A review of the book in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise noted, "This unique text seeks to bring about a paradigm shift in which workers are viewed as occupational athletes. Aided by effective recruitment, testing, and training, these workers receive the necessary support to help them excel in their physically demanding workplace." The review concluded, "This book masterfully describes physical work requirements." In 2009 Dr. Gaskill joined me to work on the third edition of Fitness and Work Capacity, a U.S. Government publication of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (Boise). And in 2010 I completed Fitness Illustrated, a graphic presentation aimed at the general public. When the publisher asked me to do the book I declined, not knowing if I could think visually. Rainer convinced me that Human Kinetics' artists would turn my rough drawings into professional art, and he was right. The book was reviewed by the Library Journal: "Beginners of all ages and fitness levels are sure to appreciate this shallow-end-of-the-pool approach to improving one's health, whose gentle but comprehensive guidance and instruction will equip them to venture, at their own pace, into the deep end."

Some of my retired colleagues wonder why I continued to write long after retirement. A few thought it might be a form of therapy after the death of my wife of 46 years, but it wasn't. Every writer knows how absorbing and gratifying the work can be. And it occurred to me that royalties could provide another leg of my retirement stool, along with social security, state retirement, and investments. But after the last five books it appears that my days of professional writing, both text and trade, may be over. It doesn't seem to be worth the effort. Dr. Gaskill and I should be working on the seventh edition of Fitness and Health, but we lack the motivation to begin. Over the years the book, which began as Physiology of Fitness, has sold several hundred thousand copies. In days past a well-received book could lead to attractive royalty checks. But today a new edition sells well for one or two years, until the used book supply becomes adequate to serve student needs. We receive no payment for resale, so the royalties decline precipitously. Amazon.com discounts the price so even a new book yields less income. Royalties are based on net, not gross sales. Electronic book sales promise further shrinkage of royalties to the point that authors will receive very little for each hour spent planning, researching, writing, editing, proofing, doing art and tables, seeking permissions, assembling the bibliography, and more. Authors are usually so tired at the end of the process that they pay a pro to do the index. Sadly, the royalty leg of my retirement stool has become rather spindly.

But I do not intend to stop writing. I am well along on a memoir that may have been therapeutic following the death of my wife. It describes the loss and loneliness, the search for a companion, the joys of dating in your seventies, embarrassing moments, and more. The book is intended to provide hope and encouragement for those who have lost their best friend, lover, and mate. I will be searching for a publisher, a problem I never experienced in the past. If I cannot find one I will consider self-publishing or a vanity press.

In regard to retirement, I still enjoy outdoor pursuits with friends, and appreciate time spent with my daughter and son and their families, all living in Missoula. I traveled as a single to Antarctica, along with Rainer and Julie Martens, and plan future travel with my wife. As for HHP's research agreement with the Forest Service's Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC, once MEDC), it is in good hands. Dr. Brent Ruby joined the faculty in 1995 and has conducted major studies on wildland firefighters, especially in the areas of energy and hydration. Steve Gaskill has contributed significantly to the cooperative work, including a new way of feeding firefighters on the fireline. Dr. Charles Palmer, once a smoke jumper, brings new insights to the research team. My work as a consultant with MTDC will end when my successor completes his interdisciplinary doctoral program at UM. He earned an M.S. in Exercise Science where he worked with Drs. Ruby and Gaskill on laboratory and field studies of wildland firefighters. He will coordinate the research agreement, now called a memorandum of understanding, as it approaches 2012 and half a century of cooperative work.


  1. In 2007 Rainer Martens of Human Kinetics Publishing and Brian Sharkey created the Health and Human Performance Resource Program to help HHP undergraduate and graduate students conduct and then present research, at local, state, regional, and national meetings. The program funds an annual convocation with student research and a guest speaker. The resource center contains all the scientific and professional books and journals published by Human Kinetics. View Human Kinetics books at http://www.humankinetics.com.[Back]


Kuzyk, Raya. Review of Fitness Illustrated: Your personalized guide to shaping up, staying fit, and eating right, by Brian Sharkey (Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2010). Library Journal, October 15, 2010.

Pierce, J. Thomas. Review of Hard Work: Defining Physical Work Performance Requirements, by Brian Sharkey and Paul Davis (Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008). Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 41 (2009): 1829.

[The Montana Professor 21.2, Spring 2011 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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