Jeff Wheeler physician, fitness advocate and cyclist for the 2012 AIDS LifeCycle race
Just who is Jeff Wheeler? No ordinary doctor. He is a physically active, 54-year old successful plastic surgeon who became a Cenegenics physician—and now is taking on the 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money and awareness for the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS.
Read on to learn more about this outstanding physician and how he prepares nutrition/fitness wise for marathons and cycling events.
Have you been physically active your whole life?
Yes. I always participated in sports, from swimming to cycling and running in marathons. In 2009, I even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I embrace the outdoors and keeping myself physically active.
It’s interesting because the older I get, the more I realize that we are very much role models. Thirty years ago, I never thought I’d be a 50-something, middle-aged male. We don’t know how we’re going to age, but I think diet and exercise really do play a crucial role in that.
Granted, I’m fortunate to have the genetic predisposition for healthy aging—my mom and dad were very healthy and physically active as well. My mom lived until she was 90 and passed away in her sleep; my dad was in his mid-80s.
So their healthy living lifestyle was passed on to me. I made sure to stay physically active, exercise on a regular basis and eat well.
What about when you were in med school?
Like other doctors, going through med school and in residency when I was on call every other night with 36-hour shifts, it became very difficult to exercise. I remember being at the gym after a 36-hour shift and being on the lat pulldown machine, falling asleep on the machine and having someone tap me on the shoulder to say, “Excuse me, sir, are you done?”
The point is, regardless of my schedule, I had to find the time. So now when I speak with prospective patients who say they don’t have time to exercise, I tell them we can always find time. But it has to become a priority. So I help them find out a time in their schedule to get some physical activity on a regular basis—even if it’s only three days a week.
What sparked you into doing marathons?
I remember in my first year of residency (1989), I went to the New York City Marathon. Now I didn’t participate in it, but I was on the side lines saying, “Some day I’m going to run this marathon.” It was so inspiring to be at the finish line and see people cross it with such jubilation, cheers and emotions.
Well, I did as I said . . . 19 years later, running for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It proved one of the more rewarding experiences—not only for personal reasons but also to know that my running was raising money/awareness for cancer research for Sloan-Kettering.
Over my life, I’ve done a lot of events, such as cycling in the 2008 Triple Bypass (crossing the continental divide in Loveland, CO) and running in the 2010 Athens Classic Marathon—commemorating the 2,500-year anniversary of the “original” marathon in 490 B.C.E., which proclaimed the Athenian victory over the invading Persians.
How often do you enter fundraising fitness events?
Every year I pick a charity and embrace it. When I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, it was done to raise money/awareness for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The 5-day/50-mile climb to the top of Uhuru Peak (19,340 summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro) was one of the most physically demanding and emotionally challenging experiences of my life.
This year—June 3 to June 9—I’m cycling to raise awareness/money for HIV/AIDS.
I actually did my first AIDS ride back in 1996 when I was a plastic surgeon resident. I biked from Boston to New York. My goal was to help raise money and awareness for this very devastating disease.
And that is exactly the same reason why Dr. Wheeler is going for the June 3 ride. Here’s how he explains it on his AIDS LifeCycle page:
In the summer of 1981, the first cases of what was to become known as AIDS, were being recognized in the United States. Within a relatively short period of time, it became quite clear that AIDS was a pandemic…the impact of which we could never have predicted. In 1986, I can remember one of my medical school professors explaining to us that it would be “our” generation of doctors who would learn about HIV and AIDS, caring for these patients, treating conditions such as CMV Retinitis, Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Meningitis and Kaposi’s Sarcoma.
I can remember viewing the NAMES Project: AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Miami Beach Convention Center in the Spring of 1988, at which time there were about 2,000 quilts. To date, there are over 45,000.
As I started my internship in General Surgery in NYC in 1989, it was an all too common occurrence to come into an AIDS patient’s room in the early morning hours, only to learn they had passed away overnight . . . [then] consoling and hugging the patient’s family and friends, always being thanked for the kindness, compassion and respect I had shown their loved ones.
So it was that I decided to do my first AIDS ride, in 1996, when a friend offered me his old Bianci racing bike and inspired me [to] join him and several friends on the BOSTON – NYC AIDS RIDE 2—350 miles in 4 days. [It was] more challenging, uplifting and inspiring than I ever could have imagined, experiencing the full spectrum of emotions, from sheer joy to extreme sadness, reflecting upon those friends I had lost to AIDS.
Above all else, I can remember feeling an incredible sense of camaraderie amongst like-minded individuals, all of whom were riding with one common cause . . . to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.
So it is again that I have decided to don my riding shoes . . .
Your passion for fitness is amazing—how did that fit into your medical specialty?
My background training was in exercise physiology/nutrition—I hold a master’s in it. I’m also a Fellowship-trained plastic and reconstructive surgeon, having had the privilege of training with some of the most talented and respected plastic surgeons in the world. My expertise is aesthetic plastic surgery, breast/body contouring, cleft lip and palate surgery, and I have had practices in New York City and Beverly Hills for 10 years.
I started medical school—the University of Miami School of Medicine—in 1989 and did my fourth year externship in plastic surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA.
I completed my residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City (an affiliate of Columbia University), then was selected for a post-graduate fellowship in aesthetic plastic surgery and cleft lip/palate surgery, studying under the world’s foremost authority in that surgery, Dr. D. Ralph Millard, Jr.
When I finished in 1998, I was in my early 40s and realized that I wanted to take some proactive steps to do all I possibly could to age well.
Is that around the time you encountered Cenegenics?
Yes. I happened to meet Cenegenics founders at a conference and became very interested in their program. I underwent the comprehensive Executive Health Evaluation (EHE) in the summer of 1999 and became an avid patient. I also became very interested in age management medicine and trained in the field.
From 1999 to 2004, I saw patients for Cenegenics, performing the EHE in my New York office. So I’ve enjoyed a very long association with Cenegenics.
In 2004, I took a year sabbatical and relocated to Colorado, then later worked at a stem cell treatment center in Barbados, West Indies, as Medical Director for the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, setting up protocols for research studies on stem cell effects on aging and facial rejuvenation.
In 2005, I moved back to Colorado, then returned to private practice in Beverly Hills, commuting from Denver to Los Angeles during the week.
More recently, I returned to Cenegenics for their Physician Training & Certification in Age Management Medicine program and started working with them again in January 2011 as a Practice Development physician—and I’m on their partner track.
Kudos to you, Dr. Wheeler, for your fitness dedication—and deep passion for charitable causes.