Although competing as a team for the first time ever, Marvin Hudson, Dr. Matthew Harmody and Richard Lassiter (from left) finished second in the Mid-Atlantic MedWAR (Medical Wilderness Adventure Race) competition through the Newport News Park in Virginia in March.
Dr. Harmody, Hudson and Lassiter used a compass and map to plot their MedWAR route through the Newport News Park. Their red alphanumeric notes on the map indicate the 20-plus locations of medical scenarios and other required race-related stops.
PINEHURST – There may be some debate about the origin of the sports expression “There is no I in teamwork,” but its meaning is never in doubt. Paramedic Marvin Hudson, paramedic/firefighter Richard Lassiter and emergency department physician Matthew Harmody, M.D., live by its message.
As FirstHealth lifesavers, they see it in action every day. As participants in the Mid-Atlantic MedWAR (Medical Wilderness Adventure Race) in March, they confirmed its practical wisdom.
Although the wilderness race through Virginia’s Newport News Park was their first time competitive race experience, Lassiter and Hudson’s very first wilderness race and an entirely new challenge for occasional runner Hudson, they finished second out of 22 teams.
“The dynamics of (our) team worked really well,” says Hudson. “One’s weakness was someone else’s strength.”
Dr. Harmody is medical director of FirstHealth Regional EMS and assistant medical director of FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital-Hoke Campus. Hudson is coming up on his 20th year, 15 as a training officer, with FirstHealth EMS-Richmond, and Lassiter is the assistant chief of Hamlet Fire and Rescue while also working part time as a FirstHealth EMS-Richmond paramedic/training officer.
The three are longtime co-workers and friends by virtue of their FirstHealth Regional EMS connection, but their venture into MEDWAR competition began more recently. A veteran runner who is experienced in marathons, triathlons and solo Adventure Races, Dr. Harmody believed that Lassiter and Hudson’s frequent participation in the classic scenarios of local, regional and state paramedic competition had provided the medical background and competitive spirit required for such a challenging team endeavor.
“They are experienced in these areas,” he says.
Lassiter, like Dr. Harmody, was eager for the challenge, but Hudson was less enthusiastic.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he says. “I had done some running, but I was the weak link.”
Once committed to the event, the men started to prepare by visiting the race website and making a list of necessary supplies. They learned that some safety items would be provided, but that they would have to bring everything else, including backpacks, medical kits, food, water, clothing and gear.
They would also need a canoe, paddles, a mountain bike, compass, matches or lighter, some way to detoxify water, waterproofing materials (for map and passbook), and a wilderness medical and survival kit.
“Strongly recommended” but optional were a spare bike, tube, tire pump and patch kit. “Strictly forbidden” were electronic navigational devices (no GPSs or cell phones) and unauthorized maps and transportation means.
Items that were lightweight and compact got the greenlight. “The smaller and lighter the item, the more likely we were to take it,” Dr. Harmody says.
In addition to the hiking, running, mountain biking, canoeing and orienteering (navigation by map and compass) of all Adventure Races, a MEDWAR race includes stops along the way where participants can earn points by correctly answering questions or participating in hands-on scenarios designed to test their knowledge of wilderness medicine. For this, the FirstHealth trio felt especially well prepared.
The rural nature of much of FirstHealth’s EMS service area helped. So did all of those paramedic competitions.
“Our training people here (at FirstHealth) have created hundreds of scenarios, so we were pretty prepared,” says Dr. Harmody.
Teams raced on courses featuring three or four distinct loops, specifying at registration if they would run the three-loop (regular) or four-loop (advanced) course. Lassiter, Hudson and Dr. Harmody went for the advanced-loop route and its promise of 25 earned points – 15 involving wilderness medicine scenarios.
One scenario focused on a fisherman’s unfortunate connection with a fish hook; another, a laceration requiring stitches. There was also a femur fracture and a burn injury.
Lassiter’s fire/rescue experience proved especially helpful in their encounter with a pretend parachutist dangling from a tree.
The most memorable scenario may have been the one involving a “patient” in anaphylactic shock. When routinely prescribed medications didn’t help, the team performed a cricothyrotomy, an incision through skin and membranes to create a lifesaving airway – with a pig trachea substituting for a human throat.
During one of several tests of related skills, Lassiter’s fire and rescue background once again proved invaluable – this time in a knot-tying exercise. Lassiter tied every knot correctly and earned his team six extra points.
Although registered for an 8-hour race, the FirstHealth team started late, was given a 7 ½-hour window but finished in 7 after paddling about 4 miles, biking another 5 and running/trekking for 10 or more. At 54 (Dr. Harmody), 52 (Hudson) and 50 (Lassiter), the men were essentially a generation older than their competition, including the winning two-man/one-woman team from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
“Those teams were made up of third- and fourth-year medical students,” Lassiter says, “(but) we had the field experience.”
Both Hudson and Lassiter believe that Dr. Harmody’s medical skills and his expertise in land navigation made a big difference in their team’s performance.
“With each patient, we would take it to a certain level and he would take over,” says Hudson.
Dr. Harmody’s experience in competitive events helped, too. Barely a month after finishing the MedWAR race in March, he participated in a one-day solo competition through the George Washington National Forest in Northern Virginia.
That grueling endeavor included a 100-meter river swim in water so cold that he quickly found himself medically questioning the wisdom of his decision to dive in.
“The water temperature was 50 degrees, and it felt like it,” he says. “It took your breath away.”
So tired by the end of the race that he skipped the awards ceremony, Dr. Harmody headed back to his motel for a hot shower and some much-needed sleep without knowing how he had finished. It wasn’t until he got home and his wife, who had been following his progress online, suggested that he check the results.
He had finished third among the solo racers.
“I was ecstatic,” he says. “It was my best finish ever in a 24-hour race.”
Dr. Harmody, Lassiter and Hudson were also happy with their MedWAR finish, but they weren’t satisfied – with Lassiter quickly volunteering that they had 362 days to train for the 2017 competition. Next time, he declared, they would be in it to win it.
“We’re not settling on second place,” he says.