I have always maintained that more education is better, which is why I am one of only a handful of doctors statewide who is board-certified in both clinical nutrition and acupuncture. My recent appointment to the Board of Directors for the national nutrition specialty board is also a natural outgrowth of this emphasis on ongoing professional enhancement. This weekend, I received another certification which, while not a physician-level postgraduate degree, is a certification of which I am equally proud.
Today, I can happily state that I am a League Certified Cycling Instructor. I have been certified by the League of American Bicyclists to teach courses in all phases of bicycle riding, road and traffic skills, and bicycle maintenance, to both adults and children.
Getting this diploma is a nontrivial task, beginning this summer, when I took the prerequisite class for my certification course. I then had to apply to take the certification course itself by completing a cycling resume which established my bona fides for having the necessary experience to even take the course, absorbing a stack of reading material, and then proving that I had done so by taking a test which took me -- no kidding -- 3 hours to complete.
All that was just to get in the door.
The class itself started at 5:30 Friday night, going until 10:00 that evening; resuming at 8 a.m. on Saturday, and wrapping up around 9:30 at night; and a final, "short" day on Sunday, again starting at 8 a.m. and wrapping up at 6 p.m., after which I got to go home and reintroduce myself to my kids. The dog, fortunately, remembered me.
It wasn't all sitting around, thankfully. During this time, I gave two short classes on various cycling education topics (Night Riding and Cadence, Gear Shifting and Power Output) went on one educational road ride, led and taught a portion of a second road ride, and extemporaneously taught and demonstrated a number of bicycle handling drills, all while receiving feedback from my instructors and fellow students. When I wasn't learning by doing, I was learning by watching my classmates and providing critiques of their performance.
It was, by anyone's standard, an exhausting weekend.
At the same time, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. I learned a tremendous amount, not so much about cycling -- the admission process assured that my cycling knowledge was a given -- but about teaching, learning and community building. I gained far more than I expected to this weekend, and the spillover into other professional areas is obvious to me.
One question I have been asked, is why did I spend so much time and effort to achieve such a high level of competence in a field which is really outside of my professional realm?
It's a good question, but a question that is flawed by its premise. My overarching concern is with my patients' health, and I constantly preach the virtues of an active lifestyle.
But, honestly, most people are loathe to begin an "exercise program" or to continue one that they have started, unless they are faced with extraordinary circumstances (impending diabetes or heart disease, for example) . To my mind, it is more effective to find ways that allow people to incorporate exercise into their daily activities than it is to set up a structured exercise program that will be abandoned in a month or two. (That said, I refuse to classify vacuuming a house as "exercise," as did one recent -- and exceedingly flawed -- study.)
Cycling fills that niche perfectly. It is an age-free activity (using the new, sporty trikes (check some out here), even older people or those with balance problems can safely hit the roads under their own power). It is a physical activity that most people have at least some passing pleasant experience with. Finally, cycling provides a tremendous return on investment in heart, lung and muscle performance -- which in turn, translates into decreased illness and disease, longer lifespan, decreased dependence on drugs...need I go on?
So by becoming certified to teach cycling to others, I am also improving my ability to help my patients in what I see as a very fundamental way.
The second reason I chose to take this course is that I am hoping, by providing cycling classes to adults and children in the area, to give back a little to the Litchfield community of which I am so fond and which, for the past decade or so, has given my children wonderful schools, mentors, and coaches under whose tutelage they have thrived.
I hope that, by teaching families successful cycling strategies, that I can help them enjoy this area's quiet and extraordinary beauty in an entirely new way -- while at the same time, giving them alternative activities that are healthier and more rewarding than time in front of the television or under the spell of a video game.
And, I have found increasingly over the past several years that a quote from India's famous sage and politician Mahatma Gandhi has become a governing principle in my life.
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world," Gandhi said. More and more, I am trying to live by that standard.