A Washingtonian who cares
Dear Superintendent Vietzke and Mr. Vogel of the National Park Service,
I’m writing you to ask for a favor, but first I’ll start with a story. I apologize for my verbosity; I’m struggling to succinctly describe how seemingly simple sets of stairs in public parks have changed my life.
In August of 2012 I moved to Washington, DC to start medical school and, under the pressures of a multitude of stressors, I developed what the DSM might describe as an adjustment disorder. Basically, as many medical students are, I was temporarily yet significantly depressed. Growing up in Florida and living in Guatemala just prior to matriculating, the literal and figurative cold climate of DC came as a shock to my system. I was frozen — numbed. As I spent most of my time indoors, in lecture halls and the library, in isolation from friends and family, I missed the warmth of the people and climates found further south. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for life as a Washingtonian or as a med student, I thought.
In August of 2013 I took a leave of absence from school and departed DC for conferences and travel as often as I could. By then I’d already moved three times within the city, still searching for a place, a neighborhood, a community in the District that felt like home.
In April of 2014 I went to my first November Project workout on a quintessential DC spring morning at the Jefferson Memorial, the cherry blossoms in full bloom. I literally jumped for joy and hugged humans I’d never met as the sun started to rise above the Tidal Basin. We raced up and down the steps of the monument (miraculously untouched by tourists at that early hour) and ran relay races in the adjacent lawn until my lungs and legs begged for rest. The fun and friendliness were as fierce as the fitness. The relative tranquility of the mall at dawn was magic. That first morning had me hooked on something I didn’t quite understand yet. All I knew was that it made me feel alive again, and suddenly I couldn’t help but come back for more every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that I was in town. I began to lust less for wandering and more for foundation. I began to lay down roots in a city I once fled from. In the discomfort of sprinting up stairs at sunrise with once strangers, I had finally found the comfort of home again, in myself and in DC.
In August of 2015 I returned to medical school with a newfound sense of confidence and community. I continued to wake up early in the sticky heat of summer and cold darkness of winter, a couple hours before class (and sometimes just a couple hours after having stayed up too late to study), so that I could meet my friends to play outside in public parks and start the day with more positivity than I knew what to do with; so that I could feel and harness and share such energy, happiness, and love throughout the day, no matter what medical school threw my way. Running amongst the green spaces of Malcolm X Park every Monday, racing up the steps to Lincoln and looking out in awe over the reflecting pool to the Washington monument every Wednesday, exploring new parks throughout the city every Friday — these have been my most powerful remedies for the med student blues this time around.
It’s no surprise that November Project has been the best medicine.
In April of 2016, in celebration of the first National Park Rx Day, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis reminded a crowd in Seattle that,
“Nature is good for us — it is a great antidote to a variety of ailments, including obesity, heart disease, and depression. A growing number of public health officials now prescribe time in parks for the overall well-being of their patients.”
Moreover, at a similar event in our very own beloved Malcolm X Park on that same day in April, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared,
“We know that an average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity — such as brisk walking in a national park — can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”
I’m not sure that Mr. Jarvis or Dr. Murthy have ever heard of November Project, but they couldn’t have provided a better endorsement for what we do. Attending our three entirely free workouts per week in public parks here in DC offers an average of just over 22 minutes a day of whatever-paced movement is most accessible — brisk walkers and elite athletes are all equally welcomed. We fully understand both the difficulty and importance of getting started, and thus live by the motto “just show up.” Previous to talk of permits, the only barrier that existed was getting out of bed. Undoubtedly, we will remain positive and persist to make a difference in the personal health of individuals and the public health of our communities, week after week after week, through winter, spring, summer, and fall, just as we always have. But now, we can’t do it without you.
I’m writing you to ask for a favor: please permit November Project DC to keep doing what it does best — building healthy, happy humans and communities, one Lincoln memorial step at a time.
With respect and gratitude,
Kami Nicole Veltri
MD Candidate, GWU SMHS