Physical activity has always been a huge part of my life, and it is actually one of the things that motivated me to pursue medical school.
How I Got My Start
I started off playing team sports when I was young and reluctantly joined the cross-country team as a result of peer pressure in high school. At first, it was impossible for me to find joy in running. It took a year of not trying very hard, yet still feeling healthier and getting faster to make me realize that maybe running was a good thing for me. I came to love it and could feel changes in my body during times that I was hurt or not running for another reason.
Running With Purpose
Even though I generally enjoy it, motivating myself to go run can be difficult. I have found that having a group or even one other person to run with and be accountable to makes it infinitely easier for me to get out there and do it. When I saw that the University of Vermont had a College of Medicine running team, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be able to motivate myself and others to maintain physical fitness and not get lost in the busy medical school schedule.
2016: Running to Support Cancer Survivors
Each year, the running team choses a program that is associated with the UVM Medical Center to support. We ask family and friends to sponsor students to run the full marathon or part of it as a member of a relay team. This year, we chose to fundraise for Steps to Wellness, an oncology rehabilitation program, as the team has been doing for the past few years because it is something unique to the University of Vermont and revolves around the idea of exercise being essential to overall health and recovery from disease. Our goal is to raise $15,000. By working together towards a goal of running in the Vermont City Marathon and fundraising for a cause we could all get behind, the barriers to consistently exercising have crumbled.
What is Steps to Wellness?
Steps to Wellness was founded by Kim Dittus, MD, PhD, and Patti O’Brien, MD. It is inspired by the cardiac rehabilitation program model and enrolls cancer patients that are either finished with or going through treatment.
The patients first get evaluated by one of the doctors to determine if exercise is safe for them given their medical status, then they are evaluated by a physical therapist who conducts more specific testing to see if the patient has any limitations to certain forms of exercise. Once evaluated, the patient starts a 12 week structured exercise program monitored by trainers. The exercises include aerobic and resistance training to ensure a well-rounded approach to regaining and maintaining strength and fitness.
Even though cardiac rehabilitation is covered by insurance, oncology rehabilitation is not. Despite this, the program is free for all participants. The funds that the running team raise go towards supporting the trainers that are part of the program. Patients find great success after completing Steps to Wellness, and this is what motivates us to work hard in fundraising so that patients can continue to have the same experience in the future.
When I heard about Steps to Wellness, I really wanted to learn more about it and be involved if I could. I find it devastating that so many people out there are not in a state of health that even allows them to be physically active. One of my goals as a future physician is to be able to get people up to the point where they can exercise safely on their own and be able to live a healthy, active lifestyle that I find so much health and joy in. Steps to Wellness it is a program that does just that – it helps patients who have lost much of their strength and fitness to cancer or cancer therapy and bring them back at least to where they were before in a very safe and controlled environment. We had some patients who went through the program come talk to us about their experience, and everyone expressed how thankful they were that they were able to return to being active as they were before losing all of their fitness during their treatment.
Nicole Leonard is a first-year medical student at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. She will conduct a summer research project with the goal of reducing barriers to other institutions starting a program similar to Steps to Wellness.