As most of us prepare to fill plates to the edge and establish mailing addresses on the nearest available couch, a pair of San Diego doctors offer a fit and friendly reminder.
Be a slug for a day, if you want. But at least try to earn it.
Dr. Roger Freeman, an orthopedic surgeon at Sharp, has worn through “at least 1,000 pair” of running shoes in the continuing pursuit of triathlon finish lines at age 75. Dr. Brendan Gaylis, 62, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center, just won a doubles title in tennis at a meeting of international physicians and dentists.
Go ahead and make another trip to the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. Tuck away a little motivation before loosening the belt, though.
Physician, heal thyself.
“When I’m at races, people sometimes ask for advice,” said Freeman, who just finished second in his 75- to 79-year-old age division during October’s Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. “Several people look at me as a role model to stay active as they get older. I’ll give them a second opinion or whatever. I say to call if they have a question.
“Someone called me from Germany once.”
That’s because those piston-like legs have taken him all over the world. He’s competed in Brazil, Switzerland, France, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and more.
Staying fit demands a prescription for fun, the good doctor advised.
“Another foreign country I did a race in was Texas,” Freeman said with a laugh.
The commitment to keep moving can come with some unexpected pain, but reinforces that we can be stronger than we think. Freeman knows firsthand.
Though the doctor has competed in 14 Ironmans and more than 100 triathlons of all shapes and stripes, a recent event in San Dimas delivered a stinging lesson in perseverance.
“It’s a four-loop bike ride,” Freeman said. “I was on my first loop. It was very cold. I was going down a hill and thought I felt something in my helmet, which has vents. Then I felt something crawling around on my second loop.
“It was a bee. I hit it with my hand and it got me right by my eye. I’m not horribly allergic, but I had a pounding headache the whole ride. But I finished and won my age group.”
For Gaylis, who also is a Scripps Clinic physician, fighting off slug-dom began at an early age in his native South Africa. He started playing tennis at 6, began lessons at 8 and started to compete at 9 in Johannesburg. He never put down the racket again.
In 1976, Gaylis rubbed shoulders with Grand Slam winners John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Yannick Noah during the world junior tennis championships at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Fast-forward to last month, when Gaylis won the 60-and-over doubles title at the World Medical Tennis Society’s annual gathering held in Orlando, Fla. When the group visited San Diego in 2007, he won the singles title in his age division.
Baseline to net. Net to baseline. Wash, rinse, repeat.
“Tennis is a form of exercise that has many health benefits,” Gaylis said. “Physical activity has been so widely proven to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and prevent many cancers.”
The lessons mined from the sport enriched him professionally.
“I think there’s a lot that tennis has taught me,” said Gaylis, who has lived in San Diego since 1991. “It’s taught me to be disciplined. Taught me to be focused. Taught me to be resilient. If you get in the third set of a tennis match, you’ve got to hang in there.”
Freeman’s path to San Diego came via a Navy stint during the Vietnam War. He began to train in orthopedics and later began private practice in 1981.
As a kid in Kentucky, Freeman laced ’em up in football, baseball, basketball and wrestling. The “third-string QB” understood that staying involved provided lifelong rewards.
“I wasn’t extremely good because I wasn’t that big,” said Freeman, who got into running in 1972. “But I had a good mental attitude.”
And a bit of self-control.
“I’ll probably run that day before the turkey festivities,” Freeman said. “It gives you an excuse to have two pieces of pecan pie, right?”
Gaylis signed off on that diagnosis.
“You’ve got to live with a bit of moderation,” he said. “Have a nice piece of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce. I’m not going to give that up. And pecan pie, of course.”