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School of Medicine discoveries

January 3, 2018

Marathon running helps M3 Sarah Elise Streit balance life, medical school

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, will run her sixth Walt Disney World Marathon this January.

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, says being a medical student is a lot like running a marathon. She should know. She’ll run her sixth Walt Disney World Marathon this January. It will be her 11th full marathon since 2012.

Called a loser by her classmates throughout middle and high school, Sarah Elise Streit was haunted by low self-esteem for much of her childhood.

She took control of her future when she discovered the therapeutic powers of running.

“I always felt like the ugly duckling,” she says. “I was full of self-doubt. I wanted to improve myself. Running gave me the confidence – the push – I needed to do that.”

Streit, who is completing her third year of medical school at the School of Medicine’s Inova Fairfax Campus, will run in her sixth Walt Disney World Marathon this January. It will mark the 11th time she’s competed in a full marathon since 2012. She has also run in about 30 half-marathons.

“I don’t know how some of our students balance being a student, taking care of themselves, let alone run a marathon,” says Chris Woleben, M’97, H’01, associate dean for student affairs. “Sarah has true tenacity. I think running provides her a sense of accomplishment that motivates her to tackle any challenge thrown her way in medical school.”

And in life. Growing up in San Francisco, Streit had a rocky relationship with her parents and faced issues with her weight. As high school ended, she needed reconstructive surgery on her jaw because of poor alignment issues that braces could not fix. She lost weight during her recovery, then gained too much back once the healing was complete. She felt depressed about herself as she headed to the University of Oregon.

“I felt terrible,” she says. “One day, I went to the gym with friends and just started running around the track.”

She was instantly hooked. The extra weight dropped off and her confidence grew. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in biology, and a year later ran in her first race – a half-marathon in Eugene, Oregon.

“Everyone who participated got a medal,” Streit says. “That had a profound effect on me. I cried. No one had ever given me a medal before.”

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, at Walt Disney World in 2014 for her third Disney Marathon.

Sarah Elise Streit, M’19, at Walt Disney World in 2014 for her third Disney Marathon. She credits the therapeutic powers of running as helping her take control of her future and giving her the confidence to tackle medical school.

She slowly built up her endurance, and in 2012 ran in her first full marathon. She chose the Walt Disney World Marathon because she often traveled there as a child.

“My childhood wasn’t easy, but Disney was my favorite place to go,” she says. “It was therapeutic.”

A few months later, Streit reconnected with her father, who offered to help pay for medical school if she would commit to going.

“2012 was a turning point,” she says. “Medical school was something I always dreamed about, but never thought I was good enough.”

Streit now plans to specialize in emergency/internal medicine. She was drawn to that area during her second year while shadowing physicians in VCU Health’s Clinical Decision Unit, where patients who go through the emergency room are kept for 24 hours of observation.

“I was meeting people who came in on probably the worst day of their lives,” she says. “I loved talking with them and calming their fears. I loved being faced with a different challenge every day.”

In many ways, Streit says, being a medical student is a lot like running a marathon.

“With medicine, I had self-doubt,” she says. “Could I do it? Could I even get into medical school? It’s the same with a marathon. Can I complete the race? It takes so much training and discipline. I tell people, it doesn’t matter what your past was like. If you can dream it, you can do it. If you put in the hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

By Janet Showalter

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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Updated: 04/29/2016