People Are Awesome: Small-Town Doctor Is Running From L.A. to D.C. For Uninsured Kids

Levi Rizk is trying to raise $1 million for a new mobile health clinic

Courtesy Levi Rizk

We’ve relaunched a GOOD online series, “People Are Awesome”, where we feature good people doing great things—and seek their advice, inspiration, and ideas. This week’s Awesome Person: Levi Rizk.

Levi Rizk isn’t much for the spotlight—he just likes to run. A modest family-practice physician in Hot Springs, Virginia (Pop. 738), Rizk is drawn to long-distance running for the space it gives him to think, to know himself. “When I’m out there, alone, I can get past the stress and worry,” he says, “all the stuff that blocks me from what really matters.”

This quiet humility belies a greater purpose, though—Rizk is about to run all the way from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., for a cause. He’s raising money for the HOPE Association, a nonprofit that provides medical services for uninsured kids. Rizk is looking to rack up a cool million dollars—if all goes according to plan, the product of his journey will be a brand-new mobile health clinic.

Running across the country was always a hazy dream for Rizk, but he imagined it would happen at the “right time.” It was only when this opportunity popped up to help HOPE Association that he had an epiphany—life doesn’t give you right times. “My wife and I have a girl who is 20 months old, and another one on the way,” he says. “I can always come up with excuses, tell myself there will be a better time. The time for this is now.”

Rizk’s fundraising period lasts until June 17 (donate here), then he hits the pavement. The goal is to knock out 3,000 miles in less than 100 days, at a pace of 40 miles per day. He’ll be followed by a big, lumbering RV, which will give him sleeping quarters at day’s end. Bonus: The RV will become a mobile health clinic when his journey is over!

Rizk made time for GOOD after a long day of doctoring, sharing some of what occupies his mind for all those miles on the open road.

Who is your hero?

My hero is named Father Lazarus El-Anthony. He’s a Christian monk who lives in solitude, in a cave in Egypt. He basically set out on a pilgrimage which led him to live as a Coptic monk. There is a mountain monastery nearby, where he stops by for food and supplies every so often. The silence he endures is very inspiring because it relates a lot to long distance running, finding that inner peace and calm. I relate so much to Father Lazarus—I’ve found a lot of our battles are internal. When people go inside, they find out who they really are.

What book most inspired you?

It was something I read at 14 years of age, a French book called Vendredi ou la Vie Sauvage (roughly: Friday or the Wild Life) by Michel Tournier. It changed a lot of how I view things. The hero ends up on a deserted island after shipwreck, and the story revolves around his time spent on the island. It talks a lot about how solitude forces perserverance and courage. It really made me think about how we approach our challenges.

What’s been the most inspiring news story from the last month?

The CDC came out with new guidelines for prescribing painkillers. Let me explain why this is inspiring. As a clinician, chronic pain can be complicated to treat, and you’ve got a lot of concern about causing opiate addiction. What I have seen in my interaction with patients is that there are lots of potential factors fueling pain, not necessarily physical. With these new stricter guidelines, I hope that more physicians will try to come up with real solutions for people in pain, not just the simple ones. It’s a call to explore how other wounds could be treated.

What is a piece of advice you’d like to share with the world?

Don't put limits on your dreams. I always had this dream of running across America, but I wasn't sure if it would happen. Don't wait too long. If the opportunity is available, you shouldn’t wait for circumstances to be perfect. It’s okay if the picture in your head is different from how it happens.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

When things go awry, don't point fingers at someone else. You can't always change others but you can always change yourself. This is something I struggle with at home, at work, in my relationships with other people.

What’s the worst advice you’ve received?

This is a hard one for me, probably because I’ve received so much bad advice in my lifetime. I’ll just say this—no matter what advice you receive, there is always something to be learned from it.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less