Starting in September, ultramarathon runner and family medicine physician Levi Rizk, DO, will be running across the country—from Los Angeles to the nation’s capital—in 100 days to raise funds for pediatric mobile health clinics designed to provide care for underserved children.
In partnership with the HOPE Association, a not-for-profit faith-based organization, Dr. Rizk is volunteering to use his greatest passion to help meet people’s greatest needs. Using the money Dr. Rizk raises, the HOPE Association plans to outfit its two RVs to provide free services to uninsured children in Los Angeles and Washington, DC. In this edited interview, Dr. Rizk shares how he is preparing to run, quite literally, cross-country and why this cause is so important to him.
Why did you get involved with the HOPE Association?
I wanted to use my passion for running for something meaningful. Steve Messeh, executive director of the HOPE Association, proposed that I run across the U.S. to bring attention to the fact that children in underserved populations are often at a disadvantage. We want a clinic that can travel to them. When children don’t have health insurance or transportation, that shouldn’t mean they can’t get proper care.
The pediatric mobile health care units will provide much-needed health services such as care for developmental disorders, psychiatric health, mentoring, and vaccinations. I will be taking a leave of absence from practicing family medicine at Bath Community Hospital in Hot Springs, Virginia, to get two mobile units going with the hopes of extending the campaign to more cities in the future.
How do you prepare for a cross-country run?
My osteopathic background allows me to better understand the mechanism of injury. Having properly recovered from past injuries allows me to be better in tune with my body, but physical preparation is only one aspect. For me, mental and spiritual preparation are also crucial.
Seven years ago, I was introduced to ultramarathon running, which just means any distance over 26.2 miles. Imagining the terrain helps your mind be ready to embrace the challenge rather than be shocked by how many hills you have ahead of you. With a 100-mile race, you can’t get through one mile and think, “I have 99 to go.” You have to make small goals along the way.
The biggest challenge is trying to stay away from negative thoughts. It’s about trying to get out of a low point and stay focused.
Thinking ahead to September, how do you envision the race?
Planning the route from Los Angeles, California, to Washington, D.C., requires a whole lot of detail. With rally points in nine major cities along the way intended to voice our efforts to raise $1 million for the HOPE Association, I’ll run 30-40 miles per day for more than 3,100 miles.
Having participated in 52 marathons across the country, I know weather will always be a concern. I’m expecting hot days coming through the Southwest and lots of rain and thunderstorms closer to the South. My goal is to finish before winter hits on the East Coast.
My wife, our 21-month-old and a few other HOPE Association volunteers will be alongside me on the journey to provide moral support. Once I get into a groove, it’s basically just trying to make it without injuries.
For me to say I’m going to be running on open roads, in traffic, through who knows what for more than three months sounds illogical, but I’m motivated about the cause because children are vital in dictating the future of our world.
Follow Dr. Rizk’s journey with the HOPE Association on Facebook and Twitter.