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Desert Doctors

By Clare Morin

While the awards are given out at the Sahara Race ceremony, some would argue that some of the true champions of this event are the team of doctors who work tirelessly behind the scenes, tending to the battered feet and bodies that come walking, or most often limping, into their medical tent.

While their work is highly valued by all competitors, people may not be aware of how their work here in Egypt is also benefiting a whole generation of future endurance athletes. The doctors on the Sahara Race 2011 have been continuing a study associated with Stanford University, that is evaluating and comparing taping techniques and seeing how it will reduce blisters in ultra athletes.

The study was developed by Erica Graham at Stanford University, another doctor with RacingThePlanet events. Blisters may be the most common injury amongst these runners and Doctor Mark Ellis, the medical director of the Sahara Race 2011 says "you are the exception if you don't get any!" Through their work, they will be able to provide excellent information on blister prevention.

Dr. Mark Ellis is a respected medical professional who has a strong team with him at the Sahara. He is an emergency physician at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center in South Carolina, and a graduate of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. He also completed his residency in Emergency Medicine at Orlando Regional Medical Center, in Orlando, Florida, and a Wilderness Medicine Fellowship at Stanford University's School of Medicine in Stanford, California.

Standford is the common theme among his team here in the Sahara that also includes Dr. Byron Buckley who was awarded the University of California San Diego’s Resident of the Year 2008, and Dr. Jessica Ngo who completed an EMS/Disaster Medicine Fellowship at Stanford and is currently a Clinical Instructor at Stanford.

Another doctor on the team, Doctor Thomas Forney, is a resident at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, and member of the American Medical Association, Emergency Medicine Resident Association and American College of Emergency Physician.

He confides that he is considering another study based on his experiences at 4 Deserts event; With low sodium levels amongst competitors being a theme at many endurance races, he says he’s excited by the thought of conducting a hyponatremia study in endurance athletes addressing the appropriate water-to-electrolyte ratio and how it changes with heat and extreme endurance.

While no RacingThePlanet doctor has returned as a competitor, they say they haven’t ruled it out, and they certainly get involved in all aspects of the race. When they aren’t busy in their tent healing people, they can be found setting up checkpoints and filling up water bottles.

Doctor Rebecca Walker says that it’s by no means an easy feat. “Working in non-sterile environment brings a whole world of challenges,” she says. “But these doctors are experienced and some of the best hands and minds you can have out here.”

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