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Docs That Rock – Climb, Run, Bike and Play Ball

Sure, they tell us to exercise and eat right, but what happens when the white coats come off? We found Fayetteville physicians water skiing at 34 miles an hour, biking 100 miles in one day, running marathons and turning an old school bus into a rock-climbing wall.

The last I saw of Dr. Sammy Choi was the rear wheel of his Cannondale Synapse.

Choi had invited me on an open ride with the Cross Creek Cycling Club, so on a beautiful Saturday I met him at 7 a.m. near Eastover. The Fort Bragg physician and father of eight began biking years ago but, “I never called myself a serious cyclist,” he said. That was before he started taking his bike on vacation and only booking hotels that came equipped with wheels.

He rides most Saturdays with the cycling club, nicknamed 4C for short. Riders are grouped according to ability: A, B, C and D. As riders improve speed and distance, they work their way up. Let’s just say that Dr. Choi and I fell at opposite ends of the spectrum. He introduced me to Lonny Meeks and Pat Blackman, and we set off. I started out slowly but got it together as we made our way down Dunn Road, Middle Road, River Road and Beard Road. The air smelled great as we rode, and we passed a couple picking butterbeans in the cool morning.

It was a good day, especially for the A and B groups furiously spinning their way through 65 miles of country roads at the frenetic pace of 22.4 miles per hour. I rode more than 15 miles at 13.1 miles per hour and was pleased to hear the other riders praising my first 4C ride.

“Many of us are nearly 50,” said Choi, who is 48. “We all feel regular cycling keeps us fit both physically and mentally.” And he tells his patients as much.

Not for slackers

Dr. Rolf Wallin likes to tell patients about the benefits of his exercise regimen, too. There’s just one problem. “Since I’ve started slacklining,” he said, “there have only been two or three people who knew what I was talking about.”

A slackline is similar to a tightrope, only slack, not solid like a balance beam. It is flat and square, like climbing rope. Slacklining first caught on in the 1970s when rock climbers strung cables between posts in parking lots. Wallin was introduced to the sport by students in New Hampshire where he was taking a language class a couple of summers ago. He ordered his own slackline, connected it to two trees in his backyard and within three weeks was able to walk across 10 times.

I managed three steps.

At first, I watched Wallin. He slipped on wind-surfing shoes to protect his feet and jumped onto the rope with ease. Wallin practices for three hours every day to perfect his balance, grip and concentration.

I tried it barefoot. My three small solo steps required coordination – eyes straight, hands at my sides – to keep my weight centered over my feet. When I lost my balance, Wallin told me to gently bounce on the rope or place one foot on the ground, leg braced against the rope.

Wallin has always been physically active; he’s into swimming, windsurfing, biking and ultimate Frisbee. He once rode with Lance Armstrong in the Ride for the Roses in Texas. A picture of him cycling beside Armstrong hangs in Hawley’s Bicycle World on Raeford Road.

And there’s more.

Magic bus

He and Dr. Ken Bellian, a good friend and ear, nose and throat surgeon, are turning an old school bus into a climbing gym. It may look like a bus on the outside but inside, the hand grips and padding are identical to equipment found on most rock-climbing walls. This fall, the doctors plan to take the rolling rock wall to local schools so children can learn more about physical fitness. The bus will also include an environmental lesson – Bellian retrofitted the bus so it can run on biodiesel.

Wallin, an anesthesiologist who wants to live to 100, often extols the virtues of exercise, and he’s sincere about leading by example.

“It amazes me how many physicians, who know you have to be healthy to live a long life, don’t exercise,” Wallin said. “They smoke, drink and don’t eat well. But there are a lot in Fayetteville who do work out. There are quite a few here who are health conscious and are active.”

I ski, you ski …

I biked, I slacklined, but drew the line at water skiing with Dr. Victor Kubit.

This is no leisurely pursuit but a hardcore circuit. On a warm evening after work, we rode out to one of the seven lakes in Carolina Lakes in Kubit’s 330-horsepower boat with his youngest son Zach and a friend, Jimmy Coppedge. Kubit could hardly wait to hop in the water. He jumped in, flashed a quick thumbs-up and we were off, Coppedge at the wheel.

When his two sons began competing in ski tournaments, Kubit decided to give it a try, too. He recently placed sixth in his age category at a state competition. Scoring is based on the number of balls a skier successfully avoids using as little rope as possible.

As the sun dipped low, Kubit zipped through a six-ball course at 34 miles per hour, slowing down to 12 miles per hour to round each obstacle.

“We do it for exercise, we do it for recreation, we do it for fun,” Kubit said. “It’s a stress reliever because there’s nothing better than getting out there and doing that. It is such an adrenaline rush. It is a natural high.”

It’s also good exercise. Skiing has helped Kubit increase his heart rate, strengthen muscles and trim at least 25 pounds. Water skiing also improves quality of life, Kubit says because, “A bad day of skiing is better than a good day at work.”

Water skiing is one of the reasons Kubit moved from Pittsburgh to North Carolina.

“I wanted my kids to grow up around it and collegiately do it,” he said. “In North Carolina there’s a lot of heritage in skiing. Some of the best skiers have come out of North Carolina.”

Born to run

If skiing is a father-son pursuit for the Kubits, the Richters have a full-blown family affair with exercise. Drs. Brad and Holly Richter are husband and wife physicians and parents to four boys. He is an anesthesiologist, former triathlete and current cyclist. She’s a pediatrician and marathon runner. The Richters have been running and biking together ever since they met in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In fact, a friend introduced them because he knew they both liked to exercise.

These days, they are busy watching their sons play sports, but Brad still logs 30 or 40 miles three times a week on his bike. He once trained for the Ironman competition, a grueling combination of running, cycling and swimming. Holly squeezes in time for running and even competed in the Boston Marathon and Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, D.C., her first race. She coasted past a certain celebrity and talk show host.

“The first marathon I ever ran was the one that Oprah ran when she turned 40,” Holly said. “I beat her by a lot, and I didn’t have a bodyguard chasing me.”

Now, she motors to the finish line with an average time of 3.5 hours.

And she hasn’t looked back.