While some athletes might be attracted to the idea of running in an event like the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships for medals or to set personal bests, Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, assistant professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, had a different reason for competing. She wanted to set an example not only for other physicians but for young Latinas – that’s why she helped assemble an All Latina Mom Physician Team.

The idea to take part in the championships, held from July 13-16 in Baton Rouge, LA, came from another physician through a mutual Facebook group called “Mama Docs Run This.”

[Dr. Rhea Johnson] had this dream to carpe forties and return to the track to literally pass the baton again and do a relay,” Verduzco-Gutierrez said. “With so much going on with physician burnout, we wanted to do something to help our wellness.”

Verduzco-Gutierrez is no stranger to running herself, either. She has been an avid runner since middle school and more recently completed the Boston Marathon in mid-April. In fact she signed up for the USATF relay just five days following the marathon and said her training was far different as she added more plyometrics alongside strength training and even kickboxing.

“I went to the track to do sprint workouts weekly, which I usually just go run longer endurance and tempo runs at Memorial Park with the running group called the Kenyan Way,” Verduzco Gutierrez said. “It was fun and different.”

The group she ran with were all ex-high school or college runners and included Dr. Aixa Alvarez of San Antonio, who practices PM&R, Dr. Ana Lisa Ramirez-Chapman, an anesthesiologist in Houston and alumnus of McGovern Medical School, and Dr. Rhea Johnson, a psychiatrist in New York.

Competing in the event was about “setting examples for those making a comeback in life,” Verduzco-Gutierrez said, and she cited a statistic that states Hispanic females are only 1.8 percent of the physician workforce in the United States.

“It was about showing other young Latinas that they, too, can be whatever they want to be and showing other physicians that wellness and self-care are important,” Verduzco-Gutierrez said.

There was plenty of support on and off the track. She described the track athletes as being “über friendly,” and said her department is always supportive of her “crazy running endeavors.”

“There are large club teams from around the country and we were non-club,”  Verduzco-Gutierrez said. “The story picked up that we were four physician mom runners, and people came up to us and cheered for us. It was great.”

In the end, Verduzco-Gutierrez said her team placed first overall in the 4×800 relay and second overall in the 4×400 relay and received two gold medals against other club teams. She could see herself returning to the USATF competition again in the future.

“The athletes were inspirational and very competitive,” she said. “They were also so supportive of us as new runners and as an all-physician runner team.”