On the run: Chicago derm inspires local community

April 1, 2011

Dermatologist Brooke Jackson, M.D., of Chicago, has made big strides building a running community where there was none previously: in Hyde Park.

Chicago - Dermatologist Brooke Jackson, M.D., of Chicago, has made big strides building a running community where there was none previously: in Hyde Park.

Dr. Jackson says when she moved to the area in 1999, Chicago runners gathered on the North Side. But Dr. Jackson lives and works on the South Side. So, she launched a grassroots effort to entice local people to do something many hadn’t considered doing: to run the Chicago marathon in 2000.

She did it, in part, by taking the intimidation out of group running. Most running communities in Chicago at that time maintained that members would need a base of six miles before they could start marathon training, Dr. Jackson says. Her running group made no such pretenses.

“The point of the group was that we’ll start you off wherever you start, and nobody says that you have to do your first marathon in four hours,” she says. “Let’s … bring it down to reality for the regular person.”

Brooke Jackson, M.D., pauses at mile 25 during the 2010 Chicago marathon for a supportive moment with daughters Avery (center) and Reese (right) and a friend. (Photo: Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

Some of the 75 people who joined the group with Dr. Jackson in 1999 couldn’t run a mile when they started; nevertheless, many either walked the half marathon or ran the full Chicago Marathon in 2000. During Dr. Jackson’s four-year reign as president of the running group, membership grew to 450.

“It really made a lot of the running groups sit up and take notice,” she says. “There clearly was a need. We were focusing on the everyday runner, and most of us are everyday runners.”

A seasoned marathoner
Dr. Jackson started running to relieve stress and maintain health, while completing a Mohs fellowship in Houston in 1997. She ran the Houston marathon in January 1998, and has since completed a total of 10 marathons, including one in Paris. The 41-year-old mother of three not only trains and leads runners, but also educates Chicago’s running communities about sun safety.

“I have for many years been the dermatologist for the Chicago marathon, meaning that I would write articles … and give talks about sun safety and sunscreens, skin cancer and more,” she says.

Chicago marathon staff took note of her commitment to running and featured Dr. Jackson as one of 10 runners - among some 45,000 competitors - in last October’s 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The marathon website (www.chicagomarathon.com) featured an article and video of Dr. Jackson in its “10-10-10 Campaign: 10 athletes. 10 stories. 10 motivations to run.”

Dr. Jackson says her motivation is “to inspire healthy living one mile at a time.” She says it was the physician side of her that wanted to encourage local people to exercise. The marathon program was a jump-start, according to Dr. Jackson, to get out of a sedentary lifestyle and into running.

“I would tell them that, just by participating, you are already separating yourself from the large majority of people,” she says. “I would see my people in the group from the very beginning when they were whining and crying - not being able to run one or two miles. … Then, you see them get a little cocky. The first time they did 10 miles, they’d say, ‘I just ran 10 miles!’

“In the course of that, I had people coming up to me and saying, ‘I’ve lost 20 pounds.’ ‘I’m off my high blood pressure medication.’ ‘I no longer have diabetes,’” Dr. Jackson says. “That was the greatest satisfaction for the physician side of me - that I was able to motivate these people.”

Running to raise funds
Dr. Jackson added fundraising to her running endeavors for the 2010 Chicago Marathon. She chose two charities: the Skin Cancer Foundation and the adoption agency that worked with her and her husband on the adoptions of their three children.

Despite having a donation page on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website and a mention in the charity’s newsletter, Dr. Jackson says she raised only $800 from colleagues. She managed to raise $3,000 for the adoption agency.

“My point is: Come on, guys. I don’t think I’m any less busy than anybody else out there, and (if) I can manage to be out there for five-and-a-half hours running marathons, you guys can donate,” she says.

It’s not too late to donate on her behalf to the Skin Cancer Foundation. For more information, go to www.skincancer.org/Get-Involved/.

Still running
Dr. Jackson, who ran the ING New York City Marathon three weeks after the Chicago marathon in late 2010, says running helps to work out the kinks in her life.

“Sometimes, I take a step back and look at everything going on with my life,” she says. “I am a business owner; I am a doctor. I have three children under the age of 4. And a husband. There’s a lot going on.”

The dermatologist says she trains in the early morning hours and is home by 7:15 a.m. to start her day, which includes her full-time job running a full-spectrum dermatology practice. Having completed Mohs and laser surgery fellowships, Dr. Jackson does general dermatology, Mohs, laser and cosmetic procedures.

Dr. Jackson, who considers herself a regular pack runner, no longer sets time goals for completing the 26.2-mile events.

“My goal is to finish, because, invariably, something always happens on marathon day,” she says.

At last October’s Chicago marathon, “It was 79 degrees,” she says. “My goal quickly changed from trying to do it in 5:30 to ‘Let’s survive this and not end up in the ambulance.’”

It was at that marathon that Dr. Jackson’s daughters proved to be her inspiration.

“They were out there at mile 25 with their running shoes, and they ran half a block with me,” she says. “One of my daughters said, ‘Keep going, Mommy. If you keep going, you can win the race.’”