Years of grueling medical training had taken a toll on Brad Somer, an oncologist and hematologist with The West Clinic in Memphis.
“I had gotten really out of shape,” he said as he popped a grape in his mouth during a break at the Mid-South cancer treatment center.
Somer was interested in competing in a triathlon to get back in shape, but there was a problem: he couldn’t swim. Triathlons are multi-stage competitions that involve swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession.
He spent weeks teaching himself how to swim competitively and to breathe properly, sometimes waking up at 2:30 in the morning to fit in a workout after a long day of work. The end result was worth it: “People didn’t recognize me,” he said.
The healthy lifestyle has since become a habit. Somer has competed in the famed Ironman competition, a long-distance triathlon that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle race and a full marathon, as well as many other races.
Somer’s love for racing led him to partner with Todd Tillmanns, a gynecologic oncologist with The West Clinic, to create the inaugural Ride to Conquer Cancer Race to benefit Mid-South Patients.
The May 5 event will be a 3.5-mile looped course that begins at The West Clinic on Humphreys Boulevard. Cyclists will have three hours to ride the loop, racing competitively or riding leisurely. There will be awards for most completed laps and fastest laps in a number of categories.
Event: Inaugural Ride to Conquer Cancer
When: Sunday, May 5
Where: The West Clinic, 100 N. Humphreys Blvd.
In addition, the weekend’s events will kick off May 4 with a 22-mile police-escorted ride through Memphis at competitive speeds. The team ride is open to those who give or raise at least $100.
Both physicians say the race is a way to give back to their patients and get the Memphis community involved in the fight to beat cancer.
“You gather your strength from your patients,” said Tillmanns, who also is a competitive cyclist and triathlete. “When you get tired, it’s nothing compared to what they are going through.”
The ride is hosted by the cancer center partnership between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, The West Clinic and Methodist Healthcare. All funds raised will support the Comprehensive Cancer Center, a partnership of The West Clinic, Methodist Healthcare and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. The cancer center underwrites cancer research projects, startup grants and efforts to recruit and support top scientific talent to the region.
Tillmanns and Somer say the race has a little of something for both competitive and casual riders.
Lee Schwartzberg, medical director of The West Clinic, and also an avid bike rider, says the ride will highlight the success of the clinic’s new partnership with Methodist Healthcare and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
“This one-of-a-kind cancer collaborative is rapidly moving forward with the development of a regional comprehensive cancer center,” he said.
In 2012, The West Clinic, Methodist Healthcare and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center formed an integrated cancer program that draws on the strengths of each partner. The program will expand collaborative efforts in cancer research and education.
Somer and Tillmanns occasionally train together, and squeeze in workouts whenever time allows between work and family commitments. On a trip to Washington, the two physicians went on a long midnight run to see the city’s famous monuments.
“It was freezing,” Somer recalled “But you push yourself, and in the pain you draw inspiration from your patients.”
Both physicians hope cancer survivors participating in the race will serve as an inspiration for patients who are still undergoing treatment.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Somer said. “It’s devoted to our patients.”