Off the Path Spring 2013
Busy body runs more than marathons
by Leah Twilley
Shelley Irwin has a plan.
Part of that plan includes training for an Ironman Triathlon in June.
The other part is maintaining a healthy, busy life and hosting the weekday Morning Show on WGVU Radio.
Training for two hours every day over five months is just one of the many goals Irwin has set for herself over the years as a runner and triathlete.
The Indiana native said she has always been active. "I played basketball in high school and did my first 5K race in grad school," she said.
But Irwin didn't start to take running seriously until 2001, when she changed careers from being a physical therapist to a broadcaster and moved to Grand Rapids. She earned a master's degree in physical therapy from the University of Indianapolis in 1985.
"Around that time, I had my eyes set on the Fifth Third Riverbank Run," she said. "I realized there's so much to do in this lifetime, so why not? I just jumped in."
photo by Bernadine Carey-Tucker
Since then, Irwin has competed in hundreds of races and marathons around the world.
Before becoming a broadcaster, Irwin practiced physical therapy for more than 15 years in North Carolina. A break-up with a boyfriend brought her back to the Midwest.
After working as a therapist in Rochester for about a year, she decided to enroll in the Specs Howard School of Media Arts in Southfield. She attended classes part time and finished the program in two-and-a-half years. After completing internships at WJR Radio and WXYZ-TV in Detroit, she landed her first job as a broadcaster at WGVU Public Television and Radio.
Irwin, who lives each day until bedtime, is a five-time recipient of the American Women in Radio and TV Gracie Allen Award for Program Host and was named among the Top 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2012.
"I knew as a kid I always wanted to go into radio and television," she said. "I did a lot of theater, but also loved science and athletics and school and helping people."
During rain, snow or shine, Irwin spends many of her weekends running marathons. In the winter, she wears layers of long-sleeve shirts that she can peel off as she runs outside. Often during a race, the clothes will be picked up and donated to the Salvation Army, she said.
Irwin said having experience as a physical therapist has definitely helped her as a runner. "I know the body and know what is pain and what is muscle soreness," she said.
She once treated herself for Plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the fascia in the foot and is usually associated with overuse. Her recovery took about eight months.
"That's around the time I started getting into triathlons," she said. "I started to swim a little bit because it was too painful to run."
Irwin and her basketball team.
Irwin said some of her best memories of running are the destination trips she took with friends. "A couple years ago, a group of us ran half-marathons in St. Petersburg, Boulder, Jamaica, Miami and Disney World. We'd do the race, then eat everything in sight after," she said.
Eating carbohydrates like bread, pizza or pasta the night before a race is one of Irwin's favorite rituals, as well as eating anything and everything after a race, she said. She also rests the day before a race and may only run a few miles or ride a stationary bike.
When Irwin isn't interviewing guests on the air or running, she can be found immersed in the community. Dubbed as the Face of GR by Grand Rapids Magazine, she is the current president of the University Club of Grand Rapids and serves on the board of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore. She is often invited to be an emcee or host at events, and in 2005, was the first female president of the Grand Rapids Lions in 89 years. She is also a member of many community organizations, including InForum and Girls Choral Academy.
"Before coming to Grand Rapids, I had never served on boards and committees. But this is such a philanthropic area, there's no reason not to get involved," she said.
Irwin enjoys having an impact on the community and being active, and she said it all comes back to following her dreams. "Should I have done all this when I was in my 20s, even my 30s? Sure. But maybe I needed more self-confidence and that didn't happen until later in life," she said.
People often ask Irwin how she finds time to juggle it all. Her response: "I'm a mad woman. But I'm pain-free and I'm healthy and that's all part of the plan."