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Reigstad: Physician on the run

<b>Tribune photo by Rand Middleton</b> Katie Reigstad, a 2002 Willmar graduate, ran in the Law Day 5k run Saturday at Robbins Island in Willmar.

Katie Reigstad, a 2002 Willmar graduate and four-time cross country letterwinner, won the female division of the Law Day 5k Run at Robbins Island on Saturday. The newly-minted physician (University of Minnesota-Duluth) leaves soon to start a five-year residency in general surgery at Akron, Ohio. Notebook wanted to know what it takes to stay fit while establishing a medical career:

When, for gosh sakes, does a medical student find time to run?

I would run early in the morning, sometimes 4 a.m. but usually, 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. Other students ran after school. But I had more energy in the morning, and I felt better able to focus on classes when I'd run in the morning.

Was fitness always important to you?

When I was in grade school, I remember that our brother Andy (a state wrestling champion in 1992) would take us (her sister Betsy and brother Steven) out on runs. I started running (on my own) in seventh or eighth grade and joined cross country in ninth grade. I found it a good balance with school. When I went to college and then med school, it became even more a part of my life. It's a great activity because it's something you can do all your life.

As a physician in training, you met with patients; did you suggest running as a path to good health?

Not running specifically, but you definitely encourage any type of exercise that interests them. Running made me aware of the importance of exercise.

Has your education affected your attitude on maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

One thing is that seeing patients, you realize more and more how many diseases can be prevented by a healthy living. Not all sicknesses, obviously, but we -- young people -- need to start working now to prevent problems later in life. Exercise makes you feel better, too. It's not like I have a perfect lifestyle either, but exercise is important.

What influenced your choice of medicine as a career?

Starting in junior high, or early high school, I really liked science. I was home-schooled in seventh and eighth grade, so I had more control over what I studied. I really enjoyed anatomy and biology. In high school, I took AP (advanced placement) chemistry and calculus. They were really challenging but interesting. I was able to get a year of college credit by my last year of high school through courses at Ridgewater (College). I liked the idea of being a physician and applying what I'm learning in the sciences to patients -- actually, changing their lives.

What was the hardest part of medical school?

I think it was the transition from two years of mostly all-book learning to going directly into a clinic and applying the knowledge to patients, making the diagnosis and then providing appropriate care. It's a big change and difficult. I believe it's something schools are looking at (making the transition less abrupt.)

What did you notice about your fellow med students, as far as fitness?

Most enjoyed being active. Some played basketball at lunch break. Others volunteered helping handicapped students to downhill ski. A lot of them were into sports. Five or 10 students were running Grandma's and that's how I got started training for my first marathon (she's done two). Med school can be pretty stressful with the constant study. Running, for me, was a way of finding some balance.

But isn't running, particularly on pavement, harmful in the long run?

Actually, you see more joint problems in people who are inactive. Any activity is better than none at all. There's certainly a point where you have to back off, if there's constant pain. But studies have shown that damaged cartilage and materials in joints can actually renew itself.

OK, why Akron for the five-year grind out of the 12 programs you considered?

Well, Andy lives in Youngstown, about an hour away. So it will be nice to be close to his family. It's smaller and a rural area with a community-based program. There will only be three surgical residents. And it's the opportunity to work with an attending physician, instead of in a chain of command where I might be under a second or third-year resident. By the fifth year, I'll be seeing my own patients and doing follow-ups.

Any competitive runs planned?

Probably not before I leave in mid-June. There's a half-marathon in Akron in September. But I'll have to see if there will be time to train.