Meet a Tar Heel: Retired professor Aris Domnas

From cross-country skiing across Quebec’s snow-covered landscapes to physical training in the Canadian Army, Aris Domnas has never strayed from breaking a sweat.

Now in his early 90s, the retired Carolina biochemistry professor isn’t shying away from the active lifestyle he has always led.

“I always did it,” he said. “It’s almost inborn.”

Since arriving at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1965, Domnas has been a daily gym-goer at the campus’ fitness centers, particularly the Student Recreation Center, which serves Carolina students and employees. One of the facility’s oldest patrons, the 91-year-old has become a staple at the center.

“I tell him every day that he is an inspiration,” said Karen Cunningham, director of marketing for Campus Recreation. “We want everybody to be the healthiest version of themselves. Aris is definitely doing that. Every day he is motivated to get out of bed and come to work out because he knows it’s best for his health.”

Despite retiring in 1994, the former professor continues to come to campus nearly every day from his Chapel Hill home to get his workout in. Although his day-to-day activities have changed through the years, he continues to remain active.

“I was always at the gym,” he said. “When I was teaching and still doing research, there was a group of us that came in. We used to play a lot of raquetball and things like that.”

Even when it came time for retirement in his 70s, Domnas — who served with the Canadian Army during World War II — had no desire to slow down, and he has continued to habitually work out to keep his body and mind sharp.

ArisGraphic“I enjoy doing it,” Domnas said. “It doesn’t take much to figure out what you need to do. A lot of old-timers, when they quit, they don’t do anything. They sit there and vegetate.”

Each daily routine begins with stretching and typically lasts about two hours — always leaving time to socialize with staff and students. Some days are cardio-based with time on a stationary bike, stair steppers or rowing machine “to burn a few calories off,” he said.

Other days he spends the bulk of his time in the weight room — lifting as much as 110 pounds.

Domnas believes that although it takes longer to recover from workouts, the continual active lifestyle has helped him handle ailments such as arthritis. Using a pair of weight-lifting gloves, he is able to ease the pain in his hands and continue coming back every day.

“Everyone knows Aris,” Cunningham said. “We miss his presence when he’s not here.”

Story by Brandon Bieltz, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Graphic and photographs by Melanie Busbee, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Published January 29, 2015.