I have always thought it a bit ironic that future physicians often sacrifice their own physical, mental, and emotional health on the path of medical training. How are patients expected to listen to our suggestions when we are too busy to follow them ourselves? I have always been puzzled by this, and it is one of my missions to try to rewrite the rules of what is possible during medical training and beyond.
Endurance sports have been a constant in my life since I was in middle school. I was a runner and cross country skier in high school before competing for the Varsity Cross Country and Track Teams here at Michigan. After graduating I stepped up to marathon distance cross country ski races as well as a few forays in triathlon and road bike racing. I enjoyed each of these pursuits but when I picked up mountain bike racing a few years ago, I was soon addicted and it has since become my forte. After finishing undergrad, I spent several years working and training in Northern Michigan and traveling to races across the Midwest with my boyfriend Alex.
When people would find out I was starting medical school in August, they would express their disappointment that my days of racing were numbered and my best performances were likely behind me. Some even asked, “So when are you not a cyclist anymore?” in reference to the first day of school.
It was my love of the sport as well as a desire to change the accepted norms that drove my dual pursuit of academics and bike racing this fall. It made for a busy few months but the results in both realms were better than I could have hoped for. The time constraints challenged me to focus on quality over quantity in training and studying, an approach that paid dividends both on quizzes and on the trail. The flexibility of streaming lectures as well as flextime quizzing were huge benefits and allowed me to pull this off.
This fall turned out to be my best season of racing yet, culminating in a podium finish at Iceman Cometh – the biggest point-to-point mountain bike races in the country. Iceman is held in Traverse City and 5,000 racers complete the 30-mile course in the morning and then stick around to watch the finish of the Pro race in the afternoon. A large cash purse draws some of the biggest names in U.S. racing, giving Michigan riders a cool opportunity to race mountain bike celebrities head to head.
It was the best moment of my athletic career to enter the stadium area nearly engulfed by spectators, just
seconds away from the leader. I ended up finishing second to a U.S. Olympian and just ahead of the bronze medalist in the mountain bike cross country event in Rio. Since I grew up in northern Michigan and lived in Traverse City before medical school, the community support was amazing. Although I only have a few months of medical school under my belt, this race meant a lot to prove to myself and others that I could indeed be a student, an athlete, and a person.
Although training and racing may seem like selfish pursuits, I truly believe they will make me a better physician as well as a happier person. I also hope to be a role model for busy people trying to prioritize their own health as well as inspire the next generation who may face an even larger chronic disease burden than we do now. These are tall orders, but I firmly believe that more medicine happens outside the clinic than within it.
Thanksgiving break was a much needed reset and now I am looking forward to being “normal” for a while and shifting around my priorities during the off-season. Now it’s time to finish our Renal Sequence strong before winter break!
Kaitlyn is a first year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She is interested in innovation in medical education and when not studying, chances are she is on her bike!