Jake is a physician, father and husband. An expert in sports and exercise medicine, he’s the team physician for the U.S. Figure Skating Team. He’s also an avid cyclist and mountain biker, Jake’s story is one full of growth and progress, as the Utahn learned to believe in himself and his ability. Here’s his story!
How did you come to be where you are now?
As a junior in high school I had given up in many ways. As a result of severe bullying in previous years and in attempts to protect myself from the pain I had experienced, I had essentially shut myself down socially. I had few friends and made little attempt to make more. With little interest in sticking my neck out socially, I was content to be on my mountain bike in the trails in the mountains above my suburban home in Bountiful, UT. No longer bullied, I was content being a faceless and nameless figure shuffling from class to class. I did not hold any contempt for those who bullied me, but I had nevertheless healed with some non-visible scars. One of those scars was the teenage curse of low self-esteem. In earlier years, the anxieties I felt at school indirectly caused my grades to plummet, and I didn’t feel like I deserved or was capable of being one of the smart kids. I was as friendless as the stereotypical nerd, but with grades that reflected my lack of self-worth.
In this setting, my chemistry teacher mentioned a summer program at the University of Utah. It consisted of a chemistry class and lab with guest lectures twice a week from community members with science backgrounds. The class gave college credit and my teacher specifically told me that I should consider it. I did and my parents were supportive. Throughout the summer the professor mentioned over and over how we were the smartest kids in the state. I gave this class my all and things clicked. When they posted the final scores, I was ranked second in class. This experience marked the beginning of a new self-identity for me. For the first time I can remember I thought of myself as one of the smart kids, and I had a lot of catching up to do.
As I had a natural inclination for the sciences, namely chemistry and biology, I pursued my education with the goal of attending medical school. However, I still needed to gain social confidence and skills to maintain my trajectory of growth. I left home, went abroad for my church as a missionary, which enabled me to develop socially and talk with ease to others. I am still an introvert, but no longer a shy one. I thrived in medical school. Fast forward 15 years and I now live a quiet and simple life as a physician practicing sports medicine, father of 3 sons, and have enjoyed a wide breadth of experiences in various places throughout the country.
What does growth mean to you?
Growth is the progression from one state to another, to improve or develop in some way. The key is to never stop growing and progression. We can grow in several ways; by reaching the peak of skill in one area and then pushing the boundaries of what was considered unachievable, or by constantly taking up new skills or pursuits. Life–for me at least–is a combination of both, finding an area fitted to my interests and pursuing excellence in that specific field with the added challenge of having multiple side projects.
What are your goals/hopes/plans for the future?
Nearly all my goals, hopes, and dreams are no longer focused on me but on my sons. My desire is that they grow up with the opportunity to live out their goals, hopes, and dreams to the best of their abilities. I want them to become the best versions of themselves, to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities, and to be happy.
I will never forget an experience I had attending a sports medicine conference a few years ago. The conference held a short symposium entitled, “My Biggest Mistake.” A few physician leaders were asked to describe the biggest mistake of their careers. I was expecting to hear interesting cases where a mistake was made or more should have been done. Instead I heard stories, some even tragic, about the common plight of prioritizing career over family. It was a lesson in prioritizing what is important in life. It was a lesson I will never forget.
Although nearly all your goals are focused on your sons, are there any goals that you personally have, just for you?
Once you have a family, a stable job, and a predictable routine (all good things by the way) it is easy to fall into a place of stagnation. This is quite the opposite of being a person of growth. Although there are some good things about moving forward on cruise control it only works if you are moving forward. Currently I am challenging myself by learning French, with a goal of spending considerable time in France in the future. After I have conversant French down I will try a hand at Russian, followed by Japanese. I am planning that this will take me many years.
What do you do to take care of yourself?
It is no secret that exercise is the best medicine. Exercise will give you more energy, prevent chronic disease, keep your weight down, and provide for good mental health. As a teenager, I learned that cycling and mountain biking were an escape for me, and this continues to be true. Although many of my rides nowadays are social and at times competitive, it is my number one “go to” activity to relief stress.
What is the best exercise for you? It is the exercise that you do. Find something you love and can challenge you physically. Exercise consistently and your life will be blessed in many ways.
In an alternate dimension, every job pays the same. With that in mind, what career would you pursue?
This has potential to be one of those “grass is greener” questions. I have often thought that owning a cattle ranch in the mountains would be just the thing for me. The freedom of being outdoors and doing physical labor appeals to the me. I recognize that this is very tough work. This could be that it is just something very different than what I do now. Supposing I did own and work a cattle ranch in the mountains? Would I have the dream of practicing sports medicine and helping others overcome the challenges of injury? I suspect that I would. When I am in the middle of my day, seeing patients and helping them overcome their challenges I feel content and very much at peace. I think I would feel very similar in many other professions or careers, inasmuch as I felt meaning and purpose in my work.