November 2, 2007

VHVI cycling team pedals what they preach

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The VHVI cycling team takes on the Natchez Trace Parkway. (photo by Neil Brake)

VHVI cycling team pedals what they preach

The cycling team includes, from left, Kevin Leander, Ph.D., Sonia Scalf, R.N., Lori Zulfer, R.N., Mark Robbins, M.D., James Martinez, Margaret Morrison, Dawn Sabin, R.N. (second from right), and Mike Marlow. (photo by Neil Brake)

The cycling team includes, from left, Kevin Leander, Ph.D., Sonia Scalf, R.N., Lori Zulfer, R.N., Mark Robbins, M.D., James Martinez, Margaret Morrison, Dawn Sabin, R.N. (second from right), and Mike Marlow. (photo by Neil Brake)

Doctors and nurses at the Vanderbilt Heart & Vascular Institute don't think it's enough to advise patients to exercise. They also believe they should practice what they preach.

When cardiologist Mark Robbins, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine and director of the Peripheral Vascular Program, and Lori Zulfer, R.N., came to VHVI 10 months ago, Zulfer quickly organized a cycling team.

Cycling had been her passion for a number of years, and her enthusiasm for the sport spilled over to her work. She ordered jerseys with “Vanderbilt Heart” boldly displayed on them and recruited her colleagues to join her for four-hour rides on the weekends.

In a matter of weeks, the VHVI Cycling Team was formed and could be seen in their bright blue and yellow jerseys taking on the hills of Williamson County.

James Martinez met Zulfer five years ago when he became of patient of Robbins. Martinez was 38 years old, overweight and had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He was also a smoker and susceptible to heart disease, which ran in his family. He saw Zulfer and Robbins annually to monitor his risk factors.

When they made the move to VHVI last year, Martinez, like most of their patients, followed them.

“I knew that their moving to Vanderbilt was positive in terms of my getting the best care possible. Because of Vanderbilt's reputation, I knew they would be up to date with the latest technology and procedures,” Martinez said.

When Martinez had his annual checkup in April, Zulfer encouraged him to think about joining the VHVI cycling team, but he was a little intimidated by the thought of riding 70 miles or more each weekend.

Both Zulfer and Robbins were serious cyclists, and Martinez had listened to them talk about it and was intrigued. He was taking spinning classes at the gym and was working hard to get into shape.

“I had just bought a bicycle and they invited me to ride with them. I was a little worried about it. I knew they were seasoned riders,” he said.

Zulfer encouraged him, and about a month later Martinez and a friend decided to give it a shot.

“Mark and Lori told me what riding would do for me, how it could help my cardiovascular system and lower my blood pressure and cholesterol. They had always talked about exercise, but I never really did anything about it until I started riding with them,” he said.

Since January, Martinez has lost 25 pounds. His blood pressure has dropped from 145/95 to 125/70. His cholesterol is lower, and he feels great.

In October, Martinez and the cycling team participated in “Bike to Jack & Back,” an organized ride that started at Page High School in Franklin and finished at Motlow State Community College in Lynchburg. The next day, they rode back to Franklin for a total of 140 miles.

“I've found that I'm good at riding; I have some pretty strong legs,” Martinez said. “I've become really involved, and I really give 110 percent when I am with them because they have been riding for a long time.

“They promote working together as a team, working hard and getting there. My buddy and I have both improved. We set goals for mileage and exceed them.”

Zulfer is the type of person who takes nursing to a new level. She fosters long-term friendships with many of her patients and encourages them to exercise by setting a good example.

“I feel like you can't be a health care provider who is preaching a healthy lifestyle if you don't exemplify a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “I talk to patients about my riding and what exercise means to me and how much I love it and what fun we have. In certain people, it really strikes a chord. Not every patient is as motivated as James.”

The VHVI cycling team has 20-30 participants including attending physicians such as Robbins, Walter Clair, M.D., John McPherson, M.D., and Peter Fong, M.D., nurses, techs, fellows, and other Vanderbilt employees.

About eight to 10 of them ride regularly on the weekends as their schedules allow.

They attract a lot of attention as they bike through Franklin and participate in benefit rides.

“Having a cycling team at work builds camaraderie. We ride together all the time, we're good riders, we all like each other, and our uniforms look fantastic on the road. We ride better together than most other teams,” Zulfer said.

“We are a VHVI advertisement rolling down the road every weekend, and will be for years to come.”