Masters stroke

Dr. Levinoff and Dr. Klam putting their heads together.
Dr. Levinoff and Dr. Klam putting their heads together.

Of the many healthcare professionals who advocate an active lifestyle, few will go an extraordinary distance—8,772 kilometers to be exact—to lead by example. That’s just what a pair of JGH doctors has done in travelling overseas to Tel Aviv this past summer to compete in the world’s third-largest international sporting event, the Maccabiah Games.

The thrill of rising to a personal challenge motivated Dr. Stephanie Klam and Dr. Elise Levinoff to return to competitive swimming, each after a decades-long absence. Last summer they dove into intensive training, often squeezing in a practice at their local pools before daybreak. Despite the punishing hours, they would arrive at the JGH invigorated.

Dr. Levinoff (right), and Dr. Klam (centre) with her 20-year-old son Jonah, who competed as a hockey player in the Maccabiah Games, accompanying his mother during the opening ceremonies.

“There was such a positive vibe at work, everyone was enthusiastic and encouraging,” says Dr. Levinoff. Both physicians credit their colleagues’ support in helping them balance their demanding work schedule and busy home life with up to four visits a week to the pool. “Our teams were really understanding of the increased demands in our training schedule, especially in the weeks leading up to the competition.”

“It was also amazing to have each other,” says Dr. Klam. They discovered early on in their training that they were both independently working toward the same goal of competing in the Games, though in different age groups. “We’re individuals who understand each other, we’re both mothers and physicians trying to fit it all in, so we developed a really nice friendship. We’d often contact one another to commiserate after a challenging or tiring day. Swimming can be isolating, it’s rarely a team sport, so it was great to have someone to give you that extra boost. When we couldn’t meet our swim teams to train, we would go together on the weekends.”

Fitness as a family affair

Togetherness is also a strategy for integrating fitness into your family life, say the physicians. “Get them involved!” urges Dr. Klam. “We snatched whatever time we could, even exercising at home. Have your kids join you!”

Dr. Levinoff poolside with her daughters Abby and Leora.

More than maintaining good physical health, both doctors also promote the mental health benefits of family fitness. “You become a role model for your children, teaching them the importance of discipline, of practice, of making the effort,” notes Dr. Klam. Both doctors’ spouses and children attended the Games. “They were there, cheering us on and celebrating our medals,” says Dr. Levinoff. “They accompanied us throughout our journey, and learned that through consistency and hard work, they will reap benefits.”

The celebrations continued at home. “Our colleagues had signed up for daily updates because the Games were streamed on the internet, and once we got back we were greeted by congratulatory cakes and streamers in our office,” says Dr. Levinoff. “There was so much hype, it was hard to make it to the ward because we were stopped all along the halls by our patients and their families!”

Fitness, it’s not a spectator sport!

Dr. Klam, an obstetrician, and Dr. Levinoff, a geriatrician, realize that many of their patients cannot be expected to be among the most mobile. Even so, as racers in the ‘Masters’ level (for older, adult competitors) of the Games, they inspire with the message, “devote yourself wholeheartedly to your fitness goal”, however modest or ambitious.

Dr. Klam dives in. Both doctors wore red swimsuits, representing Canada.

“As full-time working women, we promote the importance of being a woman in sport,” says Dr. Levinoff. “If you make it a priority and have that drive, it is doable.” And indeed both doctors performed at their peak, returning with multiple medals: Dr. Klam with two silvers and a bronze for five events, and Dr. Levinoff three golds, four silvers and a bronze for eight events. “We set records in most of our events, swimming our best times,” says Dr. Levinoff. “Now that I’ve returned, I’m eager to set and break even more personal goals.”