February 2024 President’s Message

February 2024 President’s Message

Docs share how Ironman competitions benefit work, lives

by Howard Chang, MD —

This month I am thrilled to spotlight three remarkable MSSC physicians who have achieved the extraordinary feat of completing Ironman competitions. The iconic Ironman mantra encapsulates the challenge: “Swim 2.4 Miles. Bike 112 Miles. Run 26.2 Miles. Brag the rest of your life.” I had the privilege of interviewing Drs. Emily Roth (emergency medicine), Jonas Lichty (oral and maxillofacial) and Ali Elkharbotly (cardiology) – all incredible athletes, devoted parents and top-tier physicians in their specialties.

Can you share how participating in an Ironman competition has influenced your approach to patient care?

Dr. Roth

Roth: We see a lot of sad and incredibly unfair things that happen to good people every day in medicine. I am filled with gratitude that today I can do this sport because this could change in an instant. I think it’s made me more aware and grateful for the health I have right now. Having this outlet for stress has been helpful in fighting burnout and maintaining compassion for my patients.

Elkharbotly: During an Ironman training, I have spent countless hours by myself swimming, biking and running. I have listened to all the You- Tube videos and music to which I could possibly listen. Most importantly, I reflected a lot on life. I’ve realized that asking my patients to exercise is a lot easier said than done, and we each metabolize food differently. Five patients can eat the exact same thing and gain different amounts of weight. So I have become more understanding and more sympathetic to patients’ causes, especially regarding weight loss and addiction. I have now realized that my main role is to be their teammate and support system rather than their instructor. “Rome was not built in one day.”

How do you balance the demanding training schedule of an Ironman with the responsibilities of being a physician and a parent, and how has this impacted your work-life balance?

Dr. Lichty

Lichty: I tried to not allow my training to affect my work or family life. Unfortunately, that meant training cut into my sleep schedule a bit. There were many very early morning workouts preceding the race, but I knew this was just temporary. The excited anticipation for my first Ironman helped get me through it.

Elkharbotly: Finding time to work out and train for most working parents is very challenging. I have an incredibly supportive wife who knew how important it was for me to accomplish this goal. She motivated me and never wanted me to feel bad for not being present for family activities. Initially, I was training after work; however, I felt guilty taking that time away from my family and not being present for after-school activities. So I started to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to get my training done while my family slept. Then I could help get ready for school and assist with drop-off. As a benefit, getting my workout done in the morning made me feel more energetic and productive throughout the day.

How has the discipline and resilience required for Ironman training translated into skills that benefit your profession?

Roth: I would actually look at it the opposite way: The training involved in medical school and residency makes us more resilient and better able to manage a physically rigorous schedule. Medical practice is so much harder in many ways; Ironman training is more my outlet for the terrible things we sometimes see and manage in the ER.

Dr. Elkharbotly

Elkharbotly: Ironman training is more mentally challenging than physically. There will be tough sessions where you are tired and sore from previous sessions. However, getting them done gives you the gratification that you can accomplish your goals despite the hurt. Overall, this has given me a sense of confidence and patience.

How do you believe the mental and physical endurance required for an Ironman has contributed to your overall well-being and, consequently, your ability to provide quality health care?

Lichty: I feel much better when I am active – both mentally and physically. After a couple days of being sedentary, I just don’t feel like myself. When I feel good, I am a better doctor, husband and father.

Elkharbotly: Ironman training has certainly made me more efficient. After my morning training, I always feel energetic, fresh and already accomplished before sunrise. This feeling is carried throughout the day, not only in my interactions with patients but also with my family and colleagues.

Do you plan to compete in any more Ironmans?

Roth: I am already signed up for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga in May, which is a half Ironman distance race. No full distance Ironman in the current plans, but never say never.

Lichty: My kids seem to keep me a little busier every year. Supporting my kids in their endeavors is even more fun than triathlon. For now, I will stick with the Olympic and half-Iron distances. After they leave home, I would love to give it another shot.

Elkharbotly: I enjoy the lifestyle of triathlons. I would probably try another Ironman in the future. Thank you to these three amazing (and clearly very busy) physicians for their time talking about their Ironman experiences. In the future, if you “run” into any of these docs, take a moment to congratulate them and let them brag a bit. They deserve it! After interviewing these super-athletes and after spending a lot of time reading about Ironmans, I am myself absolutely physically

Dr. Roth training