Published in the 2015 Homecoming program.
John “The Penguin” Bingham ’70 of Willow Springs, Ill., is recipient of the Alumni Merit Award for his dedication to and passion for running and encouraging individuals of all ages and skill levels to find enjoyment in a healthier lifestyle.
At age 43, Bingham became a self-proclaimed “accidental athlete,” walking and eventually running to improve his health and self-image. His new-found passion for running led him to leave a 25-year career in music and education for the opportunity to encourage others to strive for better fitness at their own pace. Known as “the Penguin” for his back-of-the-pack running style, Bingham’s philosophy is to help others to focus on the completion and enjoyment of a race rather than speed or placement. He has written several books on the subject, including “The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running your Life,” “No Need for Speed” and “Marathoning for Mortals: A Regular Person’s Guide to the Joy of Running or Walking a Full or Half Marathon.” His latest book is “An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age.”
The founder of Decatur’s Penguin in the Park 5K Run/Walk, Bingham has seen the annual event at Fairview Park grow to attract more than 1,000 participants, nearly doubling in size each year since its founding in 2005. Through his personal contributions and proceeds from Penguin in the Park entry fees, Bingham funds the John “the Penguin” Bingham Scholarship, given annually to a Millikin exercise science and sport student. A separate award, the Penguin in the Park Award, is also presented to a deserving athlete at the race each year. The event also supports youth athletic programs at the Decatur Indoor Sports Center.
An avid volunteer, Bingham was the national spokesperson for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training for 15 years and received their Champion of the Year award three times. He was also a clinician, moderator and announcer for the Competitor Group’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series from 1998-2015.
At Millikin, Bingham majored in music education and performed in University Choir, Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Jazz Lab Band. He was also a member of Pi Kappa Lambda honor society, Kappa Sigma fraternity and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity, serving as president his senior year. He later completed a master’s degree in trombone performance at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and earned his doctorate in music education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
After graduation from Millikin, Bingham was drafted into the Army and earned a coveted spot in the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” where he served for five years. After discharge, he was a member of the staff orchestra for the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. When his performing career ended, he began a 15-year teaching and administrative career at The George Washington University, the University of Illinois, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and the department of music at Middle Tennessee State University. After making the decision to shift from the world of music to fitness and running, Bingham became a columnist for Runner’s World and Competitor magazines and later, founder and president of John Bingham Racing. Bingham recently retired from those pursuits, and with his wife, Jenny, founded Marathon Expeditions. Together, they travel the world creating “running vacations” for runners and walkers of all abilities. Bingham also continues to encourage fitness through his website, johnbingham.com.