U Magazine
U Magazine
UCLA Health
David Geffen School of Medicine

Marathon Medics

By Kim Kowsky

UCLA's marathon-loving physicians (from left) Ronald Paquette, M.D., Allison Kean, M.D., Michael Teitell, M.D., Ph.D., and David Ross, M.D., get a running start to the day at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus.

Ron Paquette, M.D. , arrives at work in a T-shirt, shorts and a pair of neon-green sneakers that he bought at a thrift shop for seven bucks. It's the kind of outfit he wears each day for his morning and evening commutes - two miles from home and back, on the run.

"With gas at $4.50 a gallon, I'm happy that I don't require a vehicle on a daily basis," says Dr. Paquette, associate professor of hematology/oncology. "But I also like the running part of it."

The daily jogs help him to stay in shape for the marathons he runs every year; he has completed 56 since medical school. Dr. Paquette is but one of the many marathon-loving physicians at UCLA Health System. A few others include Michael Teitell, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric and Neonatal Pathology (28 marathons); David Ross, M.D., medical director of the UCLA Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Program (26 marathons); and cardiologist Allison Kean, M.D. (nine marathons).

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all four physicians started marathoning in school as a way to manage stress and stay physically fit. Now, they all say that their passion for running helps them to be better doctors.

"Patients often ask me how to stay in shape," Dr. Kean says. "I think if you practice what you're recommending to patients, it resonates strongly with them and is more effective in promoting a healthy lifestyle."

Dr. Ross also tries to set a good example for his patients. A vegan for more than 20 years, he wakes up at 3 a.m. every day to spend two hours on his elliptical trainer. But, he says, inspiration is a two-way street. Often it is Dr. Ross's patients who inspire him. About 15 years ago, while struggling through a marathon, he found the willpower he needed to complete the race by thinking about a patient who had been in the ICU for several weeks. After the race, he gave his medal to the patient, and he has made a tradition of dedicating subsequent marathon medals to other inspiring patients.

This year, Dr. Ross gave his medal to California Sen. Sharon Runner, a patient who received a double lung transplant. "Her bravery and tenacity really inspired me," Dr. Ross says.

"What I go through running a marathon is a pittance compared to what my patients endure. Giving away my medal is a small token compared to what they experience."

Dr. Teitell ran his first marathon without any training in tennis shoes and had trouble walking for a month afterward. He says he initially took up running as a challenge from a classmate in medical school and now runs to stay in shape and to travel, since marathons give him an opportunity to visit and explore cities throughout the country.

Although he considers himself "just a guy who slugs along and occasionally turns in a good time," Dr. Teitell now runs for both physical and intellectual benefit. He and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Carla Koehler, Ph.D., with whom he shares a National Institutes of Health grant, run together regularly to discuss their work. "We run and talk science, which makes the time during running just melt away," Dr. Teitell says. "It keeps us in shape and is a fun way to vet ideas that have led to some key discoveries."

Dr. Kean usually runs alone while listening to music. "There's a simplicity about running that is a natural fit for me," says Dr. Kean, who keeps a 6-ounce pair of running shoes in her car at all times, should the mood to run overtake her. "It's a nice activity to incorporate in your lifestyle that has a lot of positive benefits."

She also has incorporated running into her professional career. In 2006, Dr. Kean published a study of 45 men and women who participated in the 2001 Chicago marathon to examine the cardiovascular safety of marathon running in the general population. She found no evidence that running 26.2 miles has any adverse effect on well-trained recreational athletes.

That news doesn't surprise Dr. Paquette, who ran his 56th marathon on Catalina Island last March. "If you train your body, you can do exceptional things," he says while taking a break at a Westwood coffee shop mid-way through his morning commute. When Dr. Paquette needs to leave, he empties out the cup he brought from home, stuffs it into his backpack along with his change of clothes and lopes off, heading north on Westwood Boulevard toward his office in the Center for Health Sciences, easily outpacing the cars and buses stuck in morning traffic.

Kim Kowsky is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.


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