Living life to an exhilarating extreme

Orthopedic surgeon, Ironman, endurance athlete, triathlete, team doctor, sports medicine symposium leader and father, Gerardo Goldberger says, “Multi-tasking is second nature.”

Many physicians by nature are hard-working, competitive multi-taskers, but Gerardo Goldberger, D.O.’91, takes it to the extreme. Just one of the athletic events he competes in involves:
• a 30-mile bicycle race up a mountain,
• a four-mile run on forest trails,
• a 1.1-mile lake swim,
• a 5.5-mile run over rough trails,
• another half-mile lake swim,
• an eight-mile trail run,
• yet another half-mile lake swim
• and a final 0.7-mile sprint-climb.

Those who finish this annual Survival of the Shawangunks triathlon, or “SOS,” in New York’s Shawangunk Mountain Range get a “Survivor” t-shirt and, at the finish line, a magnificent view of five states. “The event is limited to 150 people because there are certain risks involved,” Goldberger helpfully notes.

A board-certified orthopedic surgeon, chairman of the orthopedic surgery department at CentraState Medical Center and senior member of the Advanced Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Institute in Freehold, NJ, Goldberger has participated in extreme sports and, for that matter, extreme living since his childhood in Argentina. As a 16-year-old high school student, he began attending college at night (“My parents thought it was a good idea,” he says); he finished high school one morning and graduated with his associate’s degree that evening.

Goldberger also participated in rowing, tennis, swimming, water polo and rugby. At age 17, he competed for Argentina in squash at the World Maccabiah Games, the quadrennial Jewish Olympics held in Israel the year after the Olympics. Last year, he was among 25 athletes representing the United States in the Maccabiah Games triathlon. The event included a 1,500-meter swim in the Sea of Galilee, a 25-mile bicycle race and a 6.2-mile run.

“It was one of the most grueling triathlons I’ve experienced,” says Goldberger, who also was one of the U.S. team’s physicians. “It started at 6 a.m. when it was 98 degrees; when I finished the race, it was 105 degrees.”

The physician finished sixth in the master’s category. Even better was simply being at the games, which drew approximately 9,000 athletes. “I came to the U.S. at 18 years. It’s nice to give back to the country that gave me so many opportunities,” he says. “To march into the stadium packed with people, as part of the U.S. contingent, was very special.”

Goldberger attended Rutgers, where he played rugby and competed on the rowing team. He competed in his first triathlon in 1986 as a way to stay in shape for rowing; since then, he’s competed in eight Ironman Triathlons – which consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle race and a marathon of 26 miles, 385 yards – around the world and in more than 120 other races in the U.S. He represented the U.S. at the 2007 Aquathlon World Championships, an event that combines the swim and run legs of a triathlon.

“When you engage yourself in endurance sports, it’s a physical and mental challenge. I’ve learned that, yes, I can suffer and, yes, I can finish,” he says. “There’s a feeling of exhilaration when you’re in high-intensity sports.”

The disciplined preparation he devotes to physical fitness keeps him engaged, too. Goldberger trains with Brian Shea, a U.S.A. Triathlon-certified coach and nutritional consultant. He bikes, runs and swims from 4 to 7 a.m. most days, then sees patients in surgical and office rounds, followed by an afternoon bike ride or run. Despite his hectic schedule and family life, he gets seven hours of sleep every night.

“Believe me, when my head hits the pillow, I’m done,” he says.

In 2009, Goldberger created a sports medicine symposium – offered again this February – to educate endurance athletics, coaches and physicians on topics including training methods, altitude training and cardio evaluation. “In addition to our internationally renowned speakers, the symposium fosters interaction between athletes, physicians and coaches,” he says. “It’s a collaboration on training methodology and preparation.”

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