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Heart docs outpush 49ers in contest

Hadley Leggett

Nurses and heart researchers get in the game April 24 during a push-up contest that pitted Stanford against the 49ers. Players Michael Lewis (#32) and Parys Haralson (#98) were on hand to cheer the participants.

BY HADLEY LEGGETT

Stanford doctors are known for their brains, but on April 24 they got the chance to flaunt their brawn. A team of cardiologists, residents, nurses and medical students challenged representatives of the San Francisco 49ers to a push-up contest—and pulled off a surprising victory.

Stanford medicine: 113. 49ers: 84.

"Of course, there might have been a little cheating going on," laughed cardiology nurse coordinator Heidi Salisbury, who first came up with the idea for a push-up contest to raise money for cardiovascular research.

"It taps into people's competitive nature," Salisbury said with a smile. "And we're just a little competitive."

Just before noon, an energetic crowd gathered on the Dean's Lawn to watch a sea of doctors, nurses and other staff members face off against the representatives from the pro football team. Stanford contestants competed in teams of two, with one person doing push-ups while the other kept count.

Representing the 49ers, strength coach Mark Uyeyuma attempted to beat the highest number of push-ups completed by a Stanford team member. All-star safety Michael Lewis and linebacker Parys Haralson were there to support the event and cheer on their coach, but couldn't compete in the activity because of a clause in their contract.

"We were all disappointed to hear the 49ers couldn't participate due to their contracts," said cardiology fellow Dipanjan Banerjee. "But we consoled ourselves with the thought that they were using that as an excuse to avoid the feared, world-renowned cardiovascular fitness our faculty and fellows enjoy."

Former 49er Keena Turner, who emceed the event, assured the crowd that Uyeyuma was a formidable opponent.

"We call him 'Uye,'" Turner said, "and that's how you feel after doing a workout with him—'Oooh-ie.'"

But Stanford was up to the challenge. First-year medical student Eric Leroux won the men's competition with an astonishing 113 push-ups, while Anne Van Camp, human resources manager for cardiovascular medicine, led the women's team with 66. The winners received tickets to an upcoming 49ers game.

"I was actually nervous to compete," Leroux said, "because I figured my classmates would beat me. But it turns out we all did well."

Competitors asked friends and family members to pledge money in support of the contest. So far, they've raised more than $7,000 for research on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart condition that causes thickening of the heart muscle and can lead to sudden death.

"Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden death in young people and athletes," said Euan Ashley, MD, director of the Stanford Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center. "Although medicines and surgery can help with symptoms, we have no treatment for the underlying genetic disorder."

It was especially important to the 49ers to be a part of the event, Lewis said, because they lost one of their own players, Thomas Herrion, to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 2005.

Lewis also has a personal reason to be dedicated to the cause. "I have a heart condition called atrial fibrillation," he said, "and it's important to me to have research continued on all types of heart ailments. This event will also hopefully help to open people's eyes to the issue of heart problems in general so people can better understand how to handle heart problems and still live a healthy life."

After the competition, Lewis and Haralson visited cardiology patients at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Organizers considered the event a resounding success, and Ashley says to stay tuned for round two: "Next year, it's pull-ups."


Hadley Leggett is a science-writing intern in the medical school's Office of Communication & Public Affairs.