When runner Isi Ikharebha finished her race Sunday morning, she was smiling from ear to ear. Every person who participated in the race meant another donation to her Physicians Free Clinic, she said.
The 5th Annual Physicians Free Clinic 5K Fun Run earned more than $3,000 for charity and attracted more than 150 runners, making it one of the largest fundraisers of the Ohio State branch of the American Medical Association.
The annual race began in 2008 when a few members of the OSU AMA decided their group needed a large flagship charity, and they chose the Physicians Free Clinic based on prior experience working there. The 3.1 mile race remained small for a while, drawing only 30 people last year, according to AMA community service co-chair Rhonia Gordon. The spike in attendance this year, she said, would allow the AMA to give much needed help to free clinic doctors.
“These people are taking their time out to help, and they’re not getting paid,” said Gordon, an OSU medical student. “This charity helps them run the clinic.”
The clinic, and others that follow a similar model around the United States, invite normally paid physicians to volunteer their time for free in poorer areas where health care might be a scarce commodity. Despite this fact, drugs and equipment still come with a cost, Ikharebha said, and the clinic requires the donations of organizations such as the AMA.
“What’s great is that they are raising these funds to help us provide medical services,” said Ikharebha, the executive director of the Central Ohio Physicians Free Clinic. “This helps us pay for prescription drugs, delivery and even medical interpreters for people who don’t speak English.”
Increasingly, however, free clinics are servicing people who don’t normally fall below the poverty line, Ikharebha said. Due to the recession, many families who are generally well-off have difficulty affording health care, she said, causing a spike in demand for service at the free clinic, and making the donations of groups like the AMA even more crucial.
“We are finding more and more people unemployed,” Ikharebha said. “We can’t help everybody, and unfortunately we are seeing a spike in demand.”
Gordon agreed, saying that the AMA’s donations are indeed coming in a crucial time of need.
“Increasingly, people can’t afford health care,” Gordon said. “They aren’t necessarily poor, and many have jobs.”
Gordon said the race is part of a growing effort to help alleviate this demand.
The race lasted from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and cost $20 to enter if the runner registered beforehand. Tickets were $25 if they were bought at the gate.
The race took participants on a course that curled around OSU’s campus, beginning on the west side of the Ohio Stadium and running down along the Olentangy River Trail. From there participants followed the river until they were instructed to turn around.
“It was a great course, and very scenic, though it had a lot of hills,” Ikharebha said. “It was nice that the breeze was blowing.”
Awards were given out to runners who placed in the top three positions, and extra awards were given to the top three physicians who placed. Vikas Pulluru, the runner who came in first, said he was more than happy to be running for the Physician’s Free Clinic, but he felt that he still didn’t perform at his full potential.
“I think it’s a very good cause,” said Pulluru, a senior at Hilliard Darby High school. “My legs were kind of tired during the race, and I felt very tired in the middle. It was difficult, but I would have chosen this over another race if this benefits more people.”
Before and after the race, runners could also enter a raffle to win gift cards from a number of restaurants, including Spinelli’s Deli and other local Columbus eateries. Bruegger’s Bagels and other local chains donated food for the event, and refreshments were also provided.
In the future, Gordon said the event could go to encompass more people and more donations. With its growth thus far, she said she is confident things are headed in the right direction.
“Last year, the race only had about 30 people, and this year it was over 150 participants,” she said. “I can only see it growing in the future.”