Growing up in Iowa, Christine Thorburn, MD, loved to run track and cross-country and dreamed of one day being an Olympic runner. Little did the future rheumatologist know that a knee injury would cause her to change course and become a professional road cyclist who would represent the U.S. in two Olympic Games.
Explore this issueAugust 2018
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Dr. Thorburn remembers being a graduate student at Stanford University School of Medicine when she began experiencing increased knee pain while running downhill.
“I tore my ACL and meniscus while in junior high,” says Dr. Thorburn, 48, who now works as a rheumatologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, Calif. “I continued to run cross-country while completing my undergraduate degree at Grinnell College in Iowa, but at Stanford, my old knee injury began causing me pain, and I knew I needed to quit running.”
A classmate invited Dr. Thorburn to take join the Stanford cycling team, a group that boasts bike riders of all disciplines and experience levels. Dr. Thorburn quickly fell in love with the sport and found the moderate California climate lent itself well to biking on a yearround basis.
Not only did she enjoy biking, Dr. Thorburn found she was also good at the sport. In 1998, the same year she joined the Stanford team, she qualified for the Collegiate National Championships.
“I was competitive locally, but I never thought of the possibility of competing on an international basis,” Dr. Thorburn says.
In 2001, Dr. Thorburn began her rheumatology fellowship at Stanford, and the following year, she underwent knee surgery to repair her old running injury. Dr. Thorburn finished her fellowship at Stanford and began performing research, allowing her more time to train.
“I would wake up early to train and cycle around Palo Alto with a headlamp on,” Dr. Thorburn says. “[Because] I was doing research work in clinical epidemiology, I had more flexibility and could work in the evening.”
In 2003, Dr. Thorburn experienced a breakthrough season as a road cyclist. It was the year she attempted the inaugural T-Mobile International women’s bike race, which includes a daunting four-block climb up the Fillmore Street hill in San Francisco. She finished as the second best American rider in the race and was invited to participate in the World Championships in Canada that same year.