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His Own Medicine Sports Doctor Practices What He Prescribes

Thu., May 2, 1996

The first time P.Z. Pearce ran Bloomsday, it wasn’t pretty.

He was 28 years old, in Spokane for a medical residency and not an avid runner. He and his wife, Vicki, huffed across the finish line in that 1981 race with a time of one hour, 18 minutes.

“My wife and I kind of laugh how after our first Bloomsday, we came home and took a nap, we were so exhausted. The first time we did Bloomsday, we thought we had run a marathon.”

For Pearce, now Dr. Pearce, the race was the start of an avocation that has paralleled his career in sports medicine. It makes up one-third of his medical practice at the Rockwood Clinic Spokane Valley office.

After that first Bloomsday, he decided to condition his body for a 26-mile marathon, then a triathlon and finally an Ironman Triathlon - a marathon on top of a 112-mile cycle ride and 2.4-mile swim.

And because of his involvement in those events, he’s able to attract athletes to his practice and get more involved in sports as a trainer and Olympic volunteer.

“I went to him specifically because he is an athlete,” said Stacy Riggiola, 31, a Spokane Valley fitness instructor who competes nationally in aerobics. “There are so many doctors out there who do not exercise, are not healthy. They don’t know there are different things that affect athlete’s bodies differently.

“He does a lot of monitoring of protein levels and makes sure I’m not losing the muscles I need,” said Riggiola.

Anthony Young, 63, is an amateur runner and cricket player in Vancouver, B.C., who flew to Spokane to consult with Pearce, whom he read about in a national runner’s magazine.

Suffering from a tightness in his left leg, Young said Pearce was the first doctor able to figure out the root of his ailment. The doctor gave Young a simple stretching exercise to ease the pain.

“I’ve written to him, he’s written to me, it’s an ongoing discussion. None of the other hip and leg specialists I saw so much as thought about what might be causing the tightening.”

Spokane physical therapist Bob Paull said he regularly refers athletes to Pearce.

“Sometimes doctors will tell them not to run for four weeks. He won’t,” said Paull of Spokane Sports and Orthopedic Therapy. “He’ll tell them to run in a pool or to bike or to swim. He really understands how important it is for these people to do their physical activity.”

Of his medical philosophy, Pearce said: “It’s figuring out why you have it and how we can make it better so you don’t have it again.”

And as he never empathized with the parents of sick children until he became a father, he could never understand sports medicine from textbooks.

“That’s why I get along so well with athletes. I’ve done it, I do it,” Pearce said.

He’s run 25 marathons and finished seven Ironman Triathlons, a half-day event that combines swimming, biking and running. His best time in an Ironman is 11 hours, 36 minutes in a 1990 Canadian competition.

He’s been a sports doctor for members of the Sonics and Seahawks, the Washington State University football team, Whitworth College athletes and the Spokane Indians.

At various Olympic trials, Pearce has volunteered for both drug control and sports medicine. He’s met speedskater Bonnie Blair, sprinters Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses, diver Greg Louganis as well as amateurs pursuing medals in volleyball, wrestling, cycling, rowing, luge, water polo and basketball.

Although young children have forced Pearce to cut back his training, he still runs five miles during his weekday lunch hour, leaving from his office on Sprague Avenue. He also bikes 150 miles a week and swims three to four miles a week in the summer out front of his Liberty Lake home.

Pearce, who went to high school in Seattle, played soccer and rode a bicycle as a teenager. He started running in medical school at the University of Washington because he needed an activity he could do any time of the day or night.

After that first Bloomsday, he entered local races in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint and completed his first triathlon in Hawaii in 1987.

The difference between those events and Bloomsday is speed, he said.

Serious Bloomsday runners are going at 85 percent to 90 percent of their capacity. Improving time in the race requires increasing that capacity by doing sprint work.

“If you’re an elite runner you already know this,” Pearce said. “If you’re not, it doesn’t matter; you’re going to be in a pack and not doing speed anyway.”

Bloomsday is a time when Pearce sees more sports-related injuries. Increasingly, he’s seeing more teenagers and high school girls.

The biggest mistake for young athletes is overuse: doing too much, too hard, too soon.

Kids should not play sports all year, he said.

Pearce, who coaches the junior U.S. Triathlon Team, said it’s a message he tells his athletes over and over.

“There are some kids who love to compete, and they don’t want to stop - and that’s the problem,” he said. “They never allow themselves time to recover and rest and grow and get better.”

Getting back to Bloomsday, Pearce said his goal is just to go out, have fun and take pride in being fit.

He turns 44 in July and would consider it a triumph to run his age.

“It’s a really neat thing Spokane does,” he said. “I call it a celebration of fitness. It’s neat to see people enjoying exercise and being fit. I kind of wish they would do it more than one day a year.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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