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Dispatches: An ER Doctor Using Tri To Get By

As COVID-19 continues to affect the world, we talk to ER doctor Laurie Boge who is finding her passion for triathlon is now more important than ever.

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Laurie Boge openly admits that her time spent in a war zone in Iraq has prepared her well for coping as an ER doctor during the COVID-19 outbreak. She says now, more than ever, her triathlon training is keeping her grounded—and her training focus has shifted from being race-oriented to remaining healthy. 

As an ER doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, Florida, she is still waiting for their hospital to reach its peak number of cases, but that does nothing to diminish the anxiety that her and her co-workers are already feeling. 

“We see what’s happening in New York and we are just trying to prepare ourselves as best we can,” says the two-time Ironman finisher. “The peak is not expected here in Miami for another week or two. Anxiety is super high, but our volume of patients in the ER has been lower. People are staying home and not coming in unless they absolutely have to.”

In the past few weeks, Boge has helped set up a mobile hospital near Fort Lauderdale and another 450-bed hospital on Miami Beach. Everything is geared toward being ready and being prepared. And despite working 12-hour shifts, she is doing her best to keep her triathlon training as structured as possible. She had been planning to race Ironman St. George next month, but after it was postponed she has since deferred it to Ironman Chattanooga next year. 

“Training has become an important part of my day,” she says, “Not just for my physical health, but for my mental health. My training has actually become a lot more structured these past few weeks than it has been for years. I have been aiming to do two sports each day as well as a short strength circuit.”

Together with her husband Berk, they have turned the short pool in their backyard into an endless pool with some innovative use of bungee rope, and her workout regimen has recently come to incorporate Zwift. As someone with two Ironman finishes under her belt—Chattanooga in 2014 and Texas in 2015—she already knows what it takes to keep things ticking over.

“My goal is to not push my body too hard, just aerobic training. My motivation has changed from being race-oriented to staying healthy mentally and physically. It’s a different type of motivation. I’m holding back on the harder intervals. We all know how putting in a tougher few weeks can knock back our immune systems. I’m sticking to aerobic work, listening to my body. This all helps keep you sane and physically ready to fight the virus if you do contract it. And also sleep, lots of quality sleep.”

Boge already has a deep reserve from which to draw when it comes to resilience and stoicism in fighting something way bigger than her. After finishing med school in 2001, Boge began a three-year residency in emergency medicine with the Army, which saw her deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, for a year from 2005-2006. She worked as an ER doctor in the busiest trauma center in Iraq, an experience that she says is paying dividends now. 

“This does remind me of when I went to war,” she says. “The coming together, the having to do whatever it takes to get through, everyone trying to help their community and their nation. We might not have the best tools and equipment but everyone is still all-in, making it work, making it happen. It is true resilience.”

She says her hospital has not yet had any issues with PPE or ventilator shortages, and they are using UV light systems to clean N95 masks at the end of each day. 

“We used to wear a N95 mask once and then throw it away, but now we keep that mask on all day,” she says. “We should be OK with the gear we have.”

She also says she has been overwhelmed by the level of community support the hospital has received, adding: “Our community is super supportive, everyone is really doing their part by staying home. But it’s not just that, the amount of food that’s being sent into us on a daily basis, and people dropping off masks and supplies—it’s amazing.”

Boge has been working three 12-hour shifts per week, a pattern which will continue until she is needed more, potentially every day. “If you look at Italy and China at their peak, 15-20% of health care workers ended up contracting the virus, and if that happens we will need everyone else on board, especially as patient numbers increase.”

While her tri racing has obviously taken a back seat during this time, the longer term goal of her third Ironman (now on the calendar for next year) is helping her in more ways than one.

“I knew my schedule would be 100% work-focused from now on, so I thought it best to defer to a race in 2021,” she says, of her plans to race Ironman Chattanooga next year. She says her goal now is to use her training to stay healthy—mentally and physically—and stay in shape for races to come. 

Her advice for other triathletes? 

“Definitely figure out how you can change and adapt your workout regime to avoid others. Where possible, cycle and run on quiet paths/roads and change your workout hours. If you do find yourself indoors a lot, then don’t forget to find some time to get outdoors, even if just for a short walk.”