Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Doctor shares love of sports, exercise

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Dr. Ellen Smith’s coworkers at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney often say they will join her on her weekend adventures of rappelling, kayaking, biking or hiking, but they never do.

So Smith has created a way for them to join her in spirit as they exercise in their own way. She calls it Dr. Smith’s Employee Healthy Sports Challenge.

Since December, Smith has posted a new map on an easel each month and invited everyone to join her on adventures such as a virtual Iditarod sled race across Alaska or on a kayaking trip across Niagara Falls.

For each 10 minutes of exercise they complete, participants move a pin one-half mile on the map.

December’s route was 15 miles and January’s was 18 miles, but now the group, which numbers more than 80, has progressed to 30-mile routes.

‘‘I wanted to have a way for people to be proud and demonstrate their progress,” Smith said.

She wants everyone to know they can get the benefits of exercising without participating in the extreme sports she enjoys. Yoga, Pilates, walking and playing basketball all offer good workouts, she said.

Each virtual race participant is entered into a monthly random drawing for prizes donated by Montgomery General. The prizes include golf and tennis balls, backpacks, weights and certificates to local restaurants.

‘‘I’m motivated to see how my peers are doing and moving my pins on the map,” said Kevin Mell, the hospital’s vice president for human resources.

The experience has generated some good-natured competition, he said.

‘‘It’s very competitive, even [among] people who never exercised before. ... It’s really caught on,” Smith, an emergency room doctor, said.

For those who had always exercised, the challenge pushes them to do more.

‘‘It kind of challenged me to be consistent,” said Randy Bursar, supervisor of nuclear medicine. ‘‘This is the best thing they’ve come up with here.”

Bursar is one of the few to finish the challenge each month. He does it by working out on a Bowflex machine and a treadmill.

‘‘My nuclear medicine team exercises here as well, and we tease and motivate each other,” Bursar said.

This month, participants are ‘‘traveling” through Spain on the route of the Vuelta a Espana, a three-week bicycle race.

‘‘I always said I was going to [exercise]. Now I finally did,” said Barbara Boyds, an administrator in the performance improvement department.

Boyds spends most of her workday sitting at a computer. Now, she exercises on a treadmill three times a week and does Pilates twice a week.

Smith, 44, of Damascus always enjoyed sports, but her husband, Jeffrey, a former professional football player in the Canadian Football League, introduced her to long-distance cycling.

Their children, Dan, 15, Ben, 13, and Sarah, 11, also enjoy sports, the doctor said. The boys play football and Sarah plays soccer. Sarah also enjoys rock climbing, Ben enjoys biking and Dan enjoys kayaking.

Smith runs at least twice a week with horses and dogs on the trails around Damascus. Four of the eight to nine dogs she runs with are hers; the horses belong to her friends.

‘‘A human running an 8- or 9-minute mile is the same as a horse trotting,” Smith said. ‘‘I can feel their breath coming out of their nostrils; they’re right behind me.”

Smith hopes to spread her enthusiasm for exercise to others.

She said sports opportunities are easily available in Montgomery County, including those that people might not have considered, such as kayaking. A kayak can be rented for $6 per hour at Black Hill Regional Park, she said.

In April, Smith will begin a monthly lecture series on sports-related topics for hospital employees. This summer, the hospital plans to hold a lecture series for the community on how to re-enter sports.

‘‘We want to promote good health,” Mell said.