Radiologist Liz Moorehead is redefining herself after an injury halted her triathlon career.
Photos and story by Gretchen M. Sanders
What to do when your body won’t let you do the things you love: Austin triathlete Liz Moorehead ran into that issue earlier this year. The 48-year-old radiologist, who loves to swim, bike and run, had grown accustomed to completing two workouts a day and topping the podium at local triathlons. A year ago, she won the overall female-distance division of the Texas Tri Series, four triathlons held during the course of five months.
Then Moorehead’s left hip gave out, ending her training entirely. A major surgery ensued, coupled with doctors’ orders to rest.
“Triathlon was so much a part of me,” says Moorehead, who has worked for Austin Radiological Association for 17 years and is the chief of radiology at St. David’s Medical Center. “I love exercise, so I’m trying to figure out how to enjoy what I can do today and on what level I want to get back to what I used to do.”
Now, every morning, Moorehead sweats through nearly 90 minutes of physical-therapy exercises to regain strength and range of motion in her hips and legs. She can do some indoor biking, but running remains off-limits. The forgiving sport of swimming has already welcomed her back.
It’s not all that gloomy. Forced to do other things, Moorehead traveled to China last summer to see her mother’s homeland, and she’s had more time to study Chinese with her children this fall. She also adopted two kittens to keep her company while she rests. Slowing down makes her appreciate her husband, Jeff, who’s always managed the kids and household while she works and trains. An absorbing job keeps her mind on her patients and not on her injury.
“I’m always solving mysteries at work,” she says. “If someone comes in with stomach pain, I can find the cause. Maybe that person thinks it’s appendicitis, but I discover it’s a kidney stone. I like the feeling of helping.”
Here’s how this hardworking doc stays fit in transition:
“My favorite thing to give myself is time. I let myself sleep until the last second before I have to get up. Then I make sure some kind of exercise occurs. Right now, that means a whole lot of physical therapy and a little cardio.”
“When I’m not injured, I try to swim, bike and run three times a week and lift weights twice per week. I’ll ride my bike for one hour during the week and for two or three hours on the weekend. I wish I bike-commuted more because it’s nice not using the car and it helps me sneak in a workout. Every little bit of time counts. I’ll run for an hour during lunch, shower at my office and get back to work. Apart from [University of Texas] Masters Swimming, I tend to work out on my own. I want to go when I want to go. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything unless I’ve done a good workout. It’s an addiction. It’s part of an unhealthy thing that women are prone to. I used to obsess about what I ate, but I traded that in for exercise. It’s the healthier obsession.”
“Coffee is the utmost priority for my morning meal. Breakfast comes after exercise, if at all. Sometimes after swimming, I’ll have oatmeal or a banana, but I don’t wake up early to eat. I roll out of bed and go. I usually have a salad with protein for lunch and Smarties or Tootsie Rolls for an afternoon snack. I have a terrible diet. I try very hard not to eat the delicious desserts that they always serve in our dining room at the hospital. If I look at them, I will eat them. I love sweets. For dinner, I usually have veggies and some kind of lean meat with my family at home. We try to keep mostly healthy food around the house. My husband and I joke that we prefer to exercise our willpower at the grocery store rather than doing it every day at home. I don’t drink much during the week, but I do love a frozen margarita on a Friday after work. I also enjoy trying new restaurants.”
“I have nothing special. I’m too cheap! Workout clothes from Academy or Target are fine. I do like a good running bra from Title Nine, though. I also love my bike, a Cervélo that I got a long time ago. It’s old but it’s good enough. I don’t need the new thing all the time. The engine is what matters more on the bike. I think it’s cool when I can beat someone riding an expensive, new bike. Speedo Endurance swimsuits last forever, and Nike Free running shoes with orthotics work for me.”
“I feel happier when I exercise; my worries just slip away. I enjoy focusing on the goal of a workout and not the stress in my life. I also like not worrying about what I eat. If I have five desserts one day, I know with my training schedule, it will all balance out. Plus, I like feeling strong and knowing that I can go climb a tree or a tall pole if I want to. I can escape the ‘zombiepocalypse,’ if it comes to that. I can hike 10 miles any day. The highlight of ACL is riding my bike there and back with my husband. I love the freedom that comes with my physical ability to do these things.”
“Gut it out. Just keep going. Don’t give up. Do a couple more, then you will only have a few left. Working hard and being diligent has paid off many times in my life—in school, in my profession and in sports. I’m always striving to do better, but I’ve also learned that I have to listen to my body to prevent injuries. I must be kind to myself too.”
“I love to read. If I had to give up exercise, I could be happy as long as I could read fiction. I try to spend at least 30 minutes in a book every night. I also like Sudoku. It’s what I do when I can’t sleep.”