Is It Time For Gina Kolata To Hang Up Her Spikes?

Posted on | December 2, 2010 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

Gina Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times since 1987, is one month younger then me. I turn 63 this January 20th. We both like sports and medical science. She studied molecular biology at MIT and received a masters degree in Mathematics from the University of Maryland. I studied medicine and learned the surgical trade at the University of North Carolina.

But when it comes to exercise, health and aging, we traveled different paths. In an October 31, 2006 New York Times advertisement supplement, she was described by her employer as a “self-proclaimed exercise addict (who thinks nothing of a 100-mile bike ride as a reward)”.  When my path crossed such individuals, I always wondered, “What are they running to, and who are they running from?” That is my bias. Her response on page 3 of her book Ultimate Fitness.? “Exercise is my obsession. I discovered that if I work out really hard and for at least forty minutes, I can sometimes reach an almost indescribable state of sheer exhilaration.”

As I have aged, I’ve been happy to move from backyard basketball and singles tennis to swimming, gardening, and doubles. I don’t like pain and see it as a signal that I’m doing something harmful and irresponsible to myself. I see my joints as worth protecting and orthopedic injuries as limiting and preventable. I don’t believe excessive exercise as you age is good for physical health, and I’m not sure that it’s real good for long term mental health – producing cycles of mania alternating with injury induced stasis and depression.

For myself I prefer to follow nature’s pace, smell and plant the roses, harvest the peaches and make the jam, get a good night’s sleep, and walk on a country road with eyes wide open and a grandchild in tow. I don’t think much about getting older but try to be conscious about baseline health – mental, physical and spiritual.

A while back, Gina  wrote about her running injuries including stress fractures. Her continued descriptions of her running despite her injuries felt addictive and left me uncomfortable as a physician. I had known others through the years who were pulled toward injurious behaviors in the name of sport. Whether to avoid growing old, or staying thin, or gaining a needed high, the loss of rational control was palpable and the end point almost always traumatic.

This week Gina catalogued her injuries from a cycling accident. The article suggested cycling has in part replaced running. But the voice maintains a consistent tone. She states:

“The first thing I did when I hit the ground was turn off my stopwatch — I did not want accident time to count toward our riding time. Then I sat on a curb, dazed. My head had hit the road, but my helmet saved me. My left thigh was so bruised it was hard to walk. Worst of all was a searing pain in my left shoulder. I could hardly move my arm. But since it hurt whether I rode or not, I decided, like an idiot, to finish the ride. The next day I went to a doctor and learned, to my shock, that my collarbone was broken. Running is my sport, I thought, and no ride is worth this…..Despite how much it hurt, my collarbone fracture was nowhere near as bad as some running injuries. When I got a stress fracture — a hairline break — in a small bone in my foot, I was on crutches for eight weeks. When I finally could run again, my foot hurt because the muscles had atrophied. Running was slow and difficult. I’d lost the rhythm and the stride that make running fun….With the collarbone fracture, I wore a sling for three weeks but could take it off and ride my bike on my trainer — a device that turns a road bike into a stationary one — and use an elliptical cross-trainer. After four weeks I could run, and running felt good.”

Gina’s colleague, Tara Parker-Pope, featured her piece in the Times online, encouraging reader feedback. The first post took Kolata to task:

**Yet almost no one swears off running after an injury.**
COMPLETELY VAGRANT ASSERTION WITH NO FACTUAL DATA SUPPORTING.
**I could hardly move my arm. But since it hurt whether I rode or not, I decided, like an idiot, to finish the ride. The next day I went to a doctor and learned, to my shock, that my collarbone was broken. Running is my sport, I thought, and no ride is worth this.**
KEEP RIDING. REALLY. DON’T LET BASHES, GASHES OR RASHES SLOW YOU DOWN!
**“With each wreck I thought, ‘Maybe I should try running again,’ ” he said.**
WHY NOT TRY RUSSIAN ROULETTE? THRILLS, RISK, DANGER & EVIDENCE OF MENTAL INSTABILITY. WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK? RUNNING IS FOR WUSSES. FINISHING A RACE WITH A BROKEN COLLAR BONE? PRICELESS.
**Despite how much it hurt, my collarbone fracture was nowhere near as bad as some running injuries.”
AND YOU MIGHT ASSERT THAT BEHEADING IS NOWHERE NEAR AS BAD AS SOME CRUCIFIXIONS.YOUR POINT BEING??
** I and others who got injured could not have prevented our injuries, somehow I blamed myself.**
NO, THE ACTUAL BLAME BELONGS TO THE BAD BIKE INJURY FAIRY.
— Lance Not-so-Armstrong

Of course what Gina Kolata does in her spare time is her own business. My only issue is that as a science writer for the New York Times, covering her own sports passions and mishaps at age 62, her behavior might easily be misconstrued as worthy of imitation.  Better, I think, that at our age a “work out” not further “wear out” aging equipment, especially with a wealth of options that support cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, and mind cleansing.

Comments

4 Responses to “Is It Time For Gina Kolata To Hang Up Her Spikes?”

  1. Anthony DeLucia
    January 25th, 2011 @ 10:07 am

    As one who had a bike-truck mishap on Labor Day and finished the ride, I feel a little funny reading Mike’s piece on Gina’s mindset. It was my longest ride of the year and the cracked rib wasn’t picked up until 48 hours later when I was having bad muscle spasms. At the same age (62), I have been slowing down from my old jock days, but a 50 miler is pretty cool. I do it for medical reasons (BMI=33)…reading Sonja Lyubormisky’s book, The How of Happiness and knowing that exercise is one of the things that pushes the button for the 40% of my happiness that I control…I guess I will continue to battle injuries and accidents…but prudence isn’t just a woman’s name from Beatles lyrics.

  2. Zanthe
    March 16th, 2011 @ 11:57 am

    I couldn’t agree more, and it’s actually a relief to read this after years of nagging suspicions that it was inappropriate for someone with such a powerful and far-reaching podium to be so unaware of the message she is sending. I worry deeply about the effect of the media on people with eating disorders (including over-exercising), and it has struck me repeatedly that the Times should be more mindful of the message it sends.

  3. Food reporting & policy — Nourishing Habits LLC
    March 19th, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

    [...] hormone injections on its front page, or letting its health columnist extol an exercise regime so extreme it left her with stress fractures and other injuries, the Times obviously isn’t concerned [...]

  4. Dwayne Degregorio
    February 6th, 2013 @ 4:47 am

    Running is a fun sport – seriously. Each day, people all over the world partake in the sport. Some run on the track. Others run in their neighborhood. People run in trails and even on the treadmill. No matter where you run or how often you do it, chances are you are either at risk for injury or you have at some point dealt with an injury.Injuries can be frustrating. For most people, this means that some time needs to be spent away from the sport. For someone who loves it, this is not an easy task. But it is important to note that the easiest and quickest way to heal a running injury is to stop running.`

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