Skip to main content
Jay Whelan, head of the UT Department of Nutrition and interim head of the Department of Public Health, reviewing research results with a graduate student in the cellular molecular nutrition laboratory. Credit: Kellie Crye Ward/UTK.

Jay Whelan, head of UT’s Department of Nutrition, has been recognized with the Golden Achievement Award by the World Acrobatics Society and induction into the Gallery of Legends Hall of Fame.

The award is given to accomplished athletes who have gone on to have successful careers outside of their athletic accomplishments.

Whelan, who is also the interim department head of public health, will be inducted along several other former athletes, some of whom are considered to be among the best in the world.

“Certainly, many of their achievements far exceed my own, so it is a great honor to be part of that group,” he said.

Whelan was a successful national and international gymnast in the 1970s and 1980s, prior to coming to UT as a faculty member.

He participated as a team alternate for the World University Games in 1973, and he placed first in the all-around, floor exercise, parallel bars, and high bar in the 1974 NCAA College Championships. He was also a member of the USA national team for the World Gymnastics Championships and was the captain of the first USA team to travel to the People’s Republic of China in 1976.

Whelan also worked as assistant gymnastics coach for the US Naval Academy between 1976 and 1979 and was the head coach of men’s gymnastics at North Carolina State University from 1979 to 1980.

Among his sports accolades is the 1975 Nissen-Emery Award, the highest college gymnastics recognition.

Whelan then cultivated a successful academic career as a lipid biochemist and joined UT in 1991.

His research focuses on the role of dietary compounds and their relation to biomolecular mechanisms in cancer treatment, vascular diseases, and diabetes. He is currently conducting a clinical trial along with vascular surgeons at UT Medical Center to clear blocked blood vessels in patients.

Whelan credits his achievement, both in sports and the classroom, to the culture of success he was immersed in during his years as a gymnast.

“Athletes, particularly those in the upper echelon of their sport, focus on outcomes not process. They don’t measure their success by how much time they put into their craft, but rather focus on want they accomplish,” said Whelan. “Research is the same way. I study how diet can help people live longer after they get cancer. People are only interested in living longer, not how many hours you spent in the lab, so I focus on trying to give them that.”


Andrea Schneibel (, 865-974-3993)

Hannah Browning (