Taking the First Step with Walk With a Doc

By Mint Bhetraratana

Four months ago, I found myself at the helm of a flip camera, a device that I was less than comfortable using, despite being a part of the tech-savvy generation. I was volunteering at a health conference in Oakland and was assigned to videotape the day’s events and interview some of the guest speakers. Everyone that I met was a health professional of some sort, having already found their calling and belonging to an organization that worked to better the community through public health means, while I, a Berkeley student on the brink of graduation, was simply there to help out and explore.

Little did I know that by the end of the day, I would find something to be a part of, too.

One of the guest speakers that I spoke with was Dr. David Sabgir, a physician from Columbus, Ohio who had flown all the way from his hometown to talk about his non-profit called Walk with a Doc.

“Hmm,” I thought the first time he told me and which I soon would realize is a common mistake people make, “Walk with a Dog.”

Of course, Walk with a Doc has nothing to do with this 4-legged creature (although we do encourage man’s best friend to walk with us!), but instead, is about encouraging the community to do the very simple act of walking.

Walking, as is often dismissed as just a necessary means of getting from one place to another, has a lot of health benefits. By walking 30 minutes a day, you are effectively lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of obesity, improving your immune system, and decreasing stress – thus making you a healthier, happier person!

With this in mind, Dr. Sabgir sought out a way, as a cardiologist, to help his patients prevent the onset of hypertension and cardiovascular disease (which to this day, is the number one cause of death in America) by encouraging them to be more physically active…and to do it with them.

So, in 2005, he founded Walk with a Doc, an organization that not only hosts monthly 2-mile walks with a leading physician, but which also provides free blood pressure screenings, healthy snacks, and giveaways like shirts, pedometers, and water bottles to encourage community members to continue walking long after the culmination of the event.

It was a simple idea – the merging of clinical medicine with a doctor’s advice and public health practice with a blood pressure check and a walk in the park.

I mulled over the concept in my head and concluded that, as someone who grew up playing tennis and soccer and even coached others in these sports, and as someone who learned about the obesity epidemic in public health classes, I wanted to be a part of this growing movement. (And indeed, Walk with a Doc is growing – with over 100 walks in the U.S., Australia, and Russia!)

After reconnecting with Dr. Sabgir after the conference and expressing my interest in getting involved with a Bay Area chapter of Walk with a Doc, he introduced me to the program’s director, Liz Mace. To my surprise, she told me that there wasn’t a Walk with a Doc chapter here, but that she would help me to start one.

I took some time to think about the task ahead of me: would I be up to the challenge of creating a chapter of a non-profit, something that I had no experience doing before? Would I be ready to take on a commitment that I knew would require much of my free time and energy?

I wasn’t sure what the answers were to these questions yet, but I decided that I would test the waters and find out.

And so began my journey with Walk with a Doc, which would involve several hours of sending and receiving e-mails, maintaining an Excel sheet that documented my every decision, talks with local physicians, visits to cafes and businesses for donations, and other tasks that I won’t go into detail here. I will however, share with you a few things that I’ve learned thus far while working on this project.

  1. I have to pick myself up when the going gets tough.

It’s an unfortunate reality that there will be obstacles in the way of planning an event –whether it be a cynical opinion or a schedule that doesn’t hold up. It’s easy to allow these road bumps to add up until the point when you start doubting yourself. But when that happens, it’s important to remind yourself why you got involved in the first place; it’s an opportunity to reinforce your passion and commitment for a project. For me, I like to take a look at pictures from past Walk with a Doc events and remember the important message that this organization is getting across to thousands of people. I think of the impact that an event like this can have on a community and also consider that:

  1. If I surround myself with supportive people, the obstacles can be conquered.

There are times when an individual can do a task, and there are times when a team of people can do it better. For public health initiatives, the latter is the better option. It’s crucial to interact with people who are supportive of the cause and of you. I was fortunate to come across with and connect with individuals from The City of Berkeley, Lifelong Medical Center, and Walk with a Doc, as well as the many business sponsors who believed in this program and who believed in me. Their relentless support truly helped me maintain the foundation for which I alone could not support.

Taking the time to reflect about Walk with a Doc has allowed me to think back to when I first heard about this program and which brings me to another lesson that I learned:

  1. Do not discount the little things because if you let them grow, they can lead to greater opportunities.

Four months ago, I would not have thought that volunteering to take pictures at a health conference would have led me to creating a Walk with a Doc chapter in Berkeley. Had I not done the seemingly minor task of taking footage that day, I probably would not be writing this very essay. The bottom line is – take notice of everything that is going around you and the opportunities that may come your way. And if they don’t come, take notice of the things that you are doing and forge your own path to create something that you feel there is a need for in your community.

With that said, I invite you to come walk with us on Saturday, October 19th in San Pablo Park in Berkeley. Dr. Janet Berreman will be speaking about the importance of physical activity and nutrition and Heart 2 Heart will be providing blood pressure screenings. In addition, we have invited Thalassemia Outreach at Children’s Hospital, Diabetes and Sports Health Camp (DASH), and 10×10 Wellness for Alameda County to speak to walkers about their respective health organizations. If you would like to volunteer or would like more information about this event and Walk with a Doc, feel free to e-mail me at wwad.berkeley@gmail.com.