Lifestyle

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

by Jesse Hirsch

June 2, 2016
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.

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