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Michelle Ricci of the Watkins Clinic trains for the triathlon's .9-mile swim and prepares for the 24.9-mile bicycle course with Susan Jackiewicz.
Mitchell Wolff still has the picture of his heart that Ken Baughman, MD, drew, following a massive heart attack that left Wolff unable to continue athletic competition. Physicians at other hospitals told Wolff, a former Ironman Triathlete, that he could do nothing more strenuous than walking or yoga, catapulting the athlete into a deep depression.
“Dr. Baughman told me that if I did everything he said, I’d never have another heart attack and that he and I would do a triathlon together in one year,” said Wolff, a real estate developer in New Jersey who came to Baughman for one last medical opinion. “I was overwhelmed.”
Sure enough, they entered and completed an Olympic distance triathlon in Columbia, Md., and remained close friends. Last November, Baughman died unexpectedly, and Wolff and the Watkins Cardiovascular Clinic staff immediately began planning a fitting tribute to the beloved cardiologist.
On Aug. 29, 56 BWHers and friends will form Team Baughman in the Cranberry Trifest, a competition in Lakeville that Baughman entered annually.
“It’s a pretty big endeavor, but people jumped wholeheartedly into this—and nobody has dropped out—because of Ken,” said Susan Jackiewicz, practice administrator for the Watkins Cardiovascular Clinic, who helped recruit BWHers to sign up and keeps a blog with training tips for the team. “That’s what struck me about the whole thing. I can’t even imagine the pride he’d have in the number of people doing this.”
Baughman was known for practicing the healthy lifestyle he preached to patients. A regular competitor in triathlons, his enduring memory motivates the entire team as they train for a grueling .9-mile swim, a 24.9-mile bicycle course and a 6.2-mile run, on top of grappling with a triathlon’s complexities. Changing out of a wetsuit into biking attire quickly isn’t easy.
“Dr. Baughman was instrumental in so many of our lives and careers,” said Justin Precourt, MSN, RN, nursing director of Shapiro 6 East and 7 East/West. “Exercise was one of the things he was so passionate about, and when this opportunity arose, people really wanted to be part of it.”
Fidencio Saldana, MD, agreed. “I’m excited to participate in anything that honors Dr. Baughman,” said the cardiologist, who added that Baughman’s mentorship helped shape his career. “It’s incredible that still, he is able to bring so many people together to do something challenging, something that a lot of people didn’t think they could do. His legacy lives on in many ways.”
Baughman’s former patients often ask Ashley Blanco, practice secretary for the Watkins Clinic, about the triathlon and Team Baughman’s progress. “It’s a way for his patients to continue to feel connected to him,” said Blanco, who began training in April for her first triathlon, biking or running in the morning and swimming after work.
For Wolff, the connection to his doctor and friend is especially palpable during triathlons. The two had planned to compete in both a Philadelphia triathlon and the Cranberry Trifest this year. When Wolff participated in Philadelphia two weeks ago, he taped Baughman’s picture onto the arm pad of his handlebars.
“This is the first race I’d done since he died,” Wolff said. “It was like he was with me the whole time, telling me to get my heart rate down and encouraging me to finish.”
Before the Cranberry Trifest kicks off Aug. 29, there will be a moment of silence in Baughman’s honor and to recognize the team. His wife Cheryl will be on the sidelines to support them.
“When the race starts off, it will be a tremendous moment for Ken and all he stood for,” Jackiewicz said. “I hope this will be the first of many years that a group of us compete in this triathlon to honor Ken because he wouldn’t stop after just one.”