Last year, we checked in with David Eitrheim, M.D., after he had finished his 90th marathon — miles he ran while living with a terminal cancer diagnosis. We were saddened to learn that Dr. Eitrheim recently “completed the race of his life,” on Jan. 1. “Finishing time,” according to his lovingly written obituary, “was 58 years, eight months, nine days.”
Dr. Eitrheim packed a lot of miles — and a lot of life — into those years. The longtime physician at Mayo Clinic Health System – Red Cedar, in Menomonie, Wisconsin, logged more than 40,000 miles and completed 91 marathons. Of those, 36 were ultramarathons, including more than a dozen 100-milers. Running was so important to him that when asked by his palliative care physician, former colleague and friend Jim Deming, M.D., “What would give you a really great day?” Dr. Eitrheim’s answer was “I would love to run another marathon.” And so in spite of his illness and the effects of treatment, he did just that — and more. In November 2014, he laced up his shoes and ran the Rails to Trails marathon along the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, followed by an ultramarathon in Arizona.
To honor Dr. Eitrheim and his passion for running, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports that a group of his friends took him — “or at least a pair of his running shoes” — on a final symbolic run on the day of his memorial service. The group of 18 split in two, each taking a shoe and eventually meeting up “at Evergreen Cemetery in Menomonie, where (Dr.) Eitrheim — and his shoes — would be laid to rest.” Terry Sullivan, a friend and running buddy, told the paper, “I think it was something Dave could appreciate.” Dr. Eitrheim’s wife, Amy, “met the runners and walkers at the cemetery, where she ‘was giving everyone high-fives when we finished,’” Sullivan told the paper.
Dr. Eitrheim logged some impressive statistics as a physician, too. He delivered hundreds of newborns and comforted countless families grieving loved ones. “I’ve always considered it to be a privilege for families to ask you to be a part of such important events in their lives,” he told the Hometown Health blog. His obituary notes that he volunteered regularly at the Free Clinic of the Greater Menomonie Area, helped develop the first hospice program in Dunn County, and led the development of the Menomonie Rural Training Track Family Medicine Residency Program. In 2004, he received the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians’ Family Medicine Physician of the Year Award. He was named president of that group in 2014.
Those who loved him were “so blessed” to have Dr. Eitrheim on “this incredible journey,” reads his obituary, noting that “the loneliness of one less set of feet on this journey will be ever present.”
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