Meghan is an example of the power of sport and exercise to change lives.
Over the course of five years, cycling transformed Meghan from a sedentary, unhealthy medical resident, to a National Team athlete, 2017 Pan American Championship Gold-Medallist, and physician-advocate for holistic health and wellness.
Delta, BC, Canada
Job off the Bike:
Emergency Physician, Vancouver General Hospital
Sports Medicine Physician, Fortius Sport and Health
BSc (Honours) Pharmacology - University of Alberta
MD, CM - McGill University
FRCPC Emergency Medicine Residency & Fellowship in Sport Medicine - University of British Columbia
Dip. Sports Med - Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine (CASEM)
MSc Kinesiology - in progress, University of British Columbia
Races and Training Camps
Races and Training Camps
Five years ago, I was stressed, sedentary, and unhealthy. In the midst of my six-year medical residency training at UBC, I was working 80+ hours per week, with 28-hour overnight shifts in the hospital. My spare time was spent poring over textbooks, and my diet usually consisted of hospital cafeteria fries, greasy take-out, and pilfered packets of saltine crackers from the nursing station. I felt I didn't have the time or energy for exercise, focusing completely on my medical career. Caffeine and stress hormones kept me running on fumes, and I was mostly able to ignore how awful I felt, until we tragically lost a dear friend and classmate to suicide. I realized I couldn't continue living like this; something needed to change.
Around this time, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games were generating lots of excitement, but I was too junior in my residency training to be part of the medical team. However, I had the good fortune to be offered a position as a performer in the Opening Ceremonies. Being surrounded my so many energetic, positive, and healthy role models was inspiring. I decided it was time to get active again.
It was challenging to find a sport I could fit around my busy schedule; I knew returning to figure skating was out of the question, as I couldn't reliably make the scheduled practice times. I had briefly tried some speed skating lessons, and the coach recommended I maximize my time by cross-training on a bike. I googled "Learn to Ride," and as fate would have it, there was an introductory track cycling session at the Burnaby Velodrome Club the next day, and they would even provide the rental bike!
I showed up to the velodrome in baggy yoga pants, running shoes, and a borrowed helmet. This would be my first time riding on a non-townie bike, with skinny tires and drop bars. I was pretty intimidated by the 48 degree banking, but Jeff Ain and Claire Cameron were patient coaches, and by the end of the first session, I was whizzing around as fast as my legs could pedal. I loved it! I knew this was the sport for me.
A week later, I bought a used road bike from Craigslist. I had no idea how to shift gears, and showed up at the Glotman-Simpson Cycling Club office, where Stephanie and Bjoern Ossenbrink showed me how to ride, and invited me to join a club ride on the weekend. A few months later, they convinced me to try racing, and I loved it!
I 'dabbled' in racing as I continued my Emergency residency training. I had some trepidation about adding training in to my already-packed work schedule, but to my surprise, I actually found my energy levels, mood, and efficiency increasing. After work, I would try to make it to a group cycling skills clinic, or would ride the trainer if I got out late. I usually had 2 Saturdays away from the hospital each month, and was able to gradually increase my distance on the local club ride. I began to feel part of the cycling community, and found that being accountable to a group would motivate me to get out the door when I felt too tired.
As I began to ride more, I started to improve my eating habits as well, moving away from processed- and fast foods, and toward whole-food plant-based nutrition. I began to get some results in local races, and earned racing category upgrades, from Cat 4, to 3, to 2. I was invited to join a locally-based trade team, and started a more structured training program under the guidance of coach Jeremy Storie.
With my growing passion for sport, and my firsthand experience of the power of exercise to improve health, I decided to redirect some of my career goals as well. I realized that medical school had taught me a great deal about disease, but less about health. I applied, and was accepted, to do a Fellowship in Sports Medicine at the UBC Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, under Dr. Jack Taunton, Dr. Rob Lloyd-Smith, Dr. Navin Prasad, Dr. Don McKenzie, and Dr. Mike Koehle. Here I found healthy role-models, practicing what they were prescribing. Dr. Taunton, my mentor, completed 62 marathons, founded the Vancouver Marathon and Vancouver Sun Run, and was the Chief Medical Officer for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. He and his Sport Medicine colleagues encouraged me to explore my potential as an athlete.
That year, I contested my first National Championships on the road. My goal had been just to finish the race, and I surprised myself by placing in the top 20. This whet my appetite and made me curious to see what I could do if I actually trained properly. This feeling was reinforced later in the year, when I worked at the Canada Summer Games as a Physician. It was an exciting experience, but I couldn't help but feel like I had unfinished business on the "athlete side" of the sport.
I considered taking a hiatus from my medical training, but with the monthly interest payments on a student loan debt approaching $300,000, it was not feasible to step away from work. I decided to buckle down and complete my residency, and then pursue my athletic goals.
The final year of Emergency Medicine residency is a tough grind, and can be notoriously unhealthy. With the dreaded Royal College examination looming, a strict study group schedule is added onto the clinical work, with the aim of mastering the entire 3000 pages of Rosen's Emergency Medicine, the "bible" of the specialty, over the 8 months leading up to the exam. Any list from this text is considered fair game on the exam, and residents are advised to "Review 'til your eyes hurt". "Twenty-seven causes of hypomagnesemia? Sixteen causes of ST segment elevation on an ECG? Identify these eight types of toxic mushroom and their effects? Mechanism of action of five types of snake venom?"
Serious training on the bike was put on the backburner, but I made an effort to do something active every day as a study break, whether it was commuting by bike to an ER shift, jumping on the trainer for 30 minutes, doing some yoga, or even just taking a walk around the block. I found these 'activity breaks' helped me be more focused and productive.
I nailed the exam, finished my residency, and started working in the ER at Vancouver General Hospital, and in Sports Medicine at Fortius Sport and Health. I now set my sights on reaching whatever potential I had as a bike racer. I had loved track cycling since that first day on the velodrome, and watching fellow BC athletes Steph Roorda, Laura Brown, and Jasmin Glaesser speed around the black line in perfect formation, I couldn't help but be drawn to Team Pursuit. I had a secret, crazy dream of one day wearing a Maple Leaf jersey and representing Canada as an athlete. With encouragement from my friends and family, boyfriend Jacob, Dr. Taunton, Cycling BC and coaches Richard Wooles and Jenny Trew, coupled with a "healthy disregard for the impossible," I started training in earnest.
Balancing work as an attending physician with cycling training remained a challenge, but I had more control over my schedule and more regular hours compared to my time in residency. My progress was initially slow, and I often questioned whether I was on the right track. I gave up my apartment and moved back home to save money, which allowed me to work a bit less. I continued to improve my nutrition and sleep, and made an effort to learn how to manage and minimize the effect of stress. Over the course of 8 months, with focused hard work, I managed to shave 20 seconds off of my 3km Individual Pursuit at the 2016 Track Nationals, and as a result, was selected for the Canadian National Team's NextGen Track Endurance program!
I don't think I will ever forget the surreal thrill of pulling on the Canadian national team kit for the first time. Our five-woman maple-leaf clad squad circling the otherwise-empty track that day at the national velodrome in Milton, ON, was an incredibly special feeling. Every day that I don this jersey, I feel motivated to give my very best. I also feel incredibly grateful to all those who have supported me in getting this far, as well as to the original Canadian women's Team Pursuit squad, without whose trailblazing and inspirational dedication and passion, the NextGen program would not exist at all. The Elite Squad has been a force to be reckoned with, building on Olympic Bronze in 2012 and winning this year's overall World Cup series, they are strong contenders for a Gold Medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. They are also great mentors, role models, and all-round fantastic women!
The learning curve has been steep, but very worthwhile! I have had the opportunity to work with amazing teammates and staff, and the honour of representing Canada at road and track races around the world.