After much pressure from my husband and some gentle nudges from a friend I am finally making a space for myself to write. I am hoping that this will be a way to share not only about my training and racing, but also to promote health through discussion of various topics related to race walking, doctoring, parenting, and whatever else may come along. Many of my patients have been asking for a way to follow along with what I am doing outside of the office and I keep promising to put something together, so here it goes!
Many of you know me through one of my various roles. I am a half-time practicing family medicine physician, more-than-half-time elite race walker competing for the US team, and full-time wife and mother to four beautiful children (ages 10, 8, 4, and 1). Above all I am a believer in Jesus Christ, to whom all credit for the above is due. Over the last couple years I have become well aware that I am not a typical doctor, a typical athlete, or a typical mom. It has been a crazy journey, and I am so grateful for the unique place it has landed me today.
Race walking was my childhood pastime, and I picked it back up for a year or two in college while I was recovering from a running injury. It was supposed to be a temporary thing, my dad thought I had a shot at qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Trials, and then I was planning to be done with race walking for good. I was just finishing my undergraduate degree with plans to apply to medical school. After graduation I took a year off of school to complete the application process (quite extensive) and got a full-time job working night shift in a hospital emergency department. I would do my race walk training with my dad in the afternoons, ride my bike the 10-ish kilometers to work, work all night, ride home in the morning, and catch a few hours of sleep before I got up to do it all over again.
My life was far from ideal for training, but I was enjoying the process and my only goal for that year was to qualify for the Olympic Trials. I not only managed to qualify for the trials, but also qualified to compete on the US team at the 2008 World Cup in Russia. I raced in Russia, got my acceptance letter into medical school, and finished 6th at the US Olympic Trials. I thought for sure it was a year of experiences that I would never have again. A few days after the trials race my husband and I packed up our few possessions and headed across the country for me to start medical school, and so I thought the race walk chapter of my life was closed.
Once I was settled in medical school I started missing my training routine. I found out about a marathon coming up and quickly started a new routine of studying all week, throwing in a few training sessions whenever I could, and then doing a long race walk on Saturday mornings accompanied by my husband on his bike. The marathon went well, but a number of days later I found out I was pregnant with our first child. Again I thought it would the end of race walking for me.
Instead, I somehow found myself 3 months postpartum back on the start line of the same marathon. I realized that I was addicted, and amidst studying and caring for an infant I somehow managed to make the 2010 World Cup team. Two years later and 6 months postpartum with my second child, I graduated from medical school and moved back to Oregon for residency training. I had two weeks between graduation and the start of residency, and one of those weekends happened to be the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier meet, and it was about 5 hours from our new home. Since we had just traveled across the country with two small children, what was another few hours of driving? So I went and raced and by a miracle of God I qualified for my second Olympic Trials.
The road of my race walking successes became much rougher once I started residency training. The 2012 Olympic Trials was at the end of my first week on the job as a real doctor, my first of many 60-80 hour work weeks. I was working nights on the inpatient service and one of my senior residents offered to cover my shift so I could go to the race. I worked all night and my husband drove me to the race the next day while I slept. I finished 8th, and we headed out right away so I could get back to work that night.
I tried again to quit race walking after that, but quickly realized that I needed the stress relief that came from regular exercise more than ever. When I was working nights, I would come home and load up my oldest child in the jog stroller and run with him across town to drop him off at preschool. When I was working days, I would set my alarm for 4 am and race walk for an hour before my shift started at 6. Any time I had a day off I would take my family out for a hike. I did a few races and even made it to one national championship during those three years, but mostly I was using exercise to keep myself sane as I learned to survive doctoring.
My third baby was born the month after I graduated from residency. I had about 10 months to get a qualifying time for the 2016 Olympic Trials and I really thought it would be a piece of cake after hitting it 6 months postpartum during the last Olympiad. Also I was out of residency and now had a “normal” doctor schedule to allow me more time to train. A broken arm took several weeks out of my early season training so I was planning another last chance qualifying race. I finished a painful 20-some seconds off of the qualifying standard. I faired even worse the following season when a hamstring injury led to my first disqualification. I am still dealing with lasting issues from that injury today.
My fourth pregnancy allowed some healing for my hamstring, and I started back to training when my baby was 10 days old. I had 12 weeks of maternity leave, which felt like a huge luxury after taking one week off with my first, two weeks off with my second, and finishing up a move across the state with my third. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I spent my days snuggling my baby and race walking whenever I could sneak it in around her feeding schedule. I was having so much fun that I hardly wanted to go back to work when my leave was over. That’s when Patrick and I started toying with the idea of putting more time and effort into my race walking. It had always been a hobby that I kept up with despite a schedule very full of other things. I wanted to know what I could accomplish if I actually devoted some time to training properly.
And that is how I got where I am today. I cut my doctoring schedule back to half-time about 6 months ago. I took second place at the US 50km nationals in January and qualified to compete on the US team at the Pan Am Race Walk Cup in Mexico. After 9 years it was so much fun to be back competing internationally again. From there I qualified to compete on Team USA at the Pan Am Games in Peru. I have a coach who is working so hard to make some semblance of professionalism out of my amateur ways. I have a whole team of therapists who are working to keep my injured hamstrings happy and healthy so I can keep race walking. I am so glad that I have this privilege to train and race, and although I don’t have a typical athlete life, I do want to make the most of the opportunity that I have.
I am so grateful for the support that I have to carry me along on this adventure. From my friends who encourage me and pick me up when I am down, to my patients who tolerate my difficult schedule and inspire me through their stories, to my neighbors who watch my children and cheer me on in my training, I have realized that it takes an incredible team to get where I am. I am so glad that you are all a part of it and I am hopeful that this space will allow me to share more of this journey with you.