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From Imposter Syndrome to Ironman

How triathlon transformed the life of Dr. Ouida Brown.

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Between patient consults and a shift in the operating room, Dr. Ouida L. Brown checked her phone. A text message from her 10-year-old godson, Cameron, was waiting: “They have a triathlon in Jackson on June 3.”

Brown laughed. For starters, Jackson, Mississippi, where Cameron lived, was miles away from where she was living and working in Chicago. Also, June 3 was less than a week away. But the real kicker was that Brown couldn’t really swim.

“I had taken lessons a few years prior, but could only swim if I was on the outside lane, so I could grab the wall or the lane rope,” said Brown. “So I was tickled that Cameron had more faith in me than I had in myself.” 

When Cameron’s mom (her best friend) heard what her son was up to, she laughed. “What can I say? He thinks you rock. He wants you to come home.” That was all Brown needed to hear. After texting Cameron back with a promise she’d do the race the following year, she bought a road bike, signed up for group rides with the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, and registered for swim lessons with a triathlon coach. “I could not lie to him,” Brown said. “I had a year to train, and I was going to make the most of it.”

During that year, Brown discovered there was more to triathlon than fulfilling a promise to her godson. She loved the structure it provided in contrast to her hectic job as an orthopedic surgeon. Her days could be unpredictable, full of broken bones and bad knees, but one constant was the time she carved out for herself each morning and evening to swim, bike, and run.  

“I just made the time for myself. I put it into my schedule, and it became a routine,” said Brown. During those workouts, she gained new skills, overcame fears, and found a new confidence that permeated every aspect of her life, including her career. “I learned I can do more than I ever thought possible. Although I have accomplished much in my life, I often have imposter syndrome,” said Brown. “I would doubt my skills, talents, or accomplishments and had a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. So each hurdle, each accomplishment instilled the fact that with God nothing shall be impossible.”

When she traveled to Mississippi to race her sprint triathlon, Cameron came out to cheer her on–and discovered his godmother does, indeed, rock. After crossing the finish line, she decided to keep going–to an Olympic-distance triathlon, then 70.3 Augusta, and Ironman Louisville.

Brown has also added another task to her already-busy schedule: podcasting. In her new series, Running is Cheaper than Therapy, Brown explores the transformative nature of endurance sport for body, mind, and spirit. “I often say I learn life lessons in the midst of training and racing,” said Brown. “I get inspired when I talk to guests who tell their life lessons and how they made it to the finish line.” For Brown, the podcast is a way to share with others the encouragement she got from her godson all those years ago:

“I was tickled that he had more faith in me than I had in myself,” said Brown. “And now I can do more than I ever thought possible.”

Dr. Ouida L. Brown M.D. is an orthopedist in Chicago.

A Day in the Life of Dr. Ouida Brown

Time Activity
4:15 a.m. Alarm goes off. Drink a quick pre-workout smoothie before the key workout of the day. “If emergencies or consults are requested, my schedule may change, so I try to make sure I get my early morning workouts in.”
5:30 a.m. Studio bike session
6:45 a.m. Shower and change for work
7:30 a.m. Make it to the hospital, grab breakfast in the cafeteria. “I am blessed in that my hospital has healthy, vegetarian options.”
8 a.m. – 12 p.m. Clinic or operating room, depending on the day.
12:30 p.m. Lunch at desk or a quick snack between cases – possibly in a quick run, too. “I get enough time, will run at lunch, so I tend to keep a variety of workout clothes in the car.”
2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Clinic or operating room, depending on the day.
6:00 p.m. Swim or run workout. “I usually save the swims for the evening, as it takes time to wash and style my hair depending on how I am wearing it at the time. I usually can’t just wash and go – it is a process.”
7:30 p.m. Dinner at home. “I usually cook something quick or eat leftovers.”
8:00 p.m. Read, wind down, and plan for the next day
9:30 p.m. Lights out.