Shaffers Embrace, Savor Ultimate Fitness Challenges

By  //  June 8, 2012

Fitness Spotlight: Family of Iron

BREVARD COUNTY, MELBOURNE FLORIDA – Living in this day and age, health and fitness are inseparable partners. But for one Brevard physician, family has become an integral and inseparable aspect of his own health and fitness. 

The Shaffer family are all competing athletes in marathons and Ironman events. From left are Andrea, Sam, Jim and Ben. This photo was taken at the Ironkids Ironman Florida competition where the entire Shaffer clan supported Ben’s efforts. (Image courtesy Dr. Jim Shaffer)

Dr. Jim Shaffer is the Medical Director of Health First’s VitalWatch Program and also maintains a practice in pulmonary, critical care and sleep disorders in Cocoa Beach, Viera, Palm Bay and Melbourne.

But Shaffer also is a running enthusiast and, along with members of his family, has competed in a number of prestigious races including the Boston Marathon and select Iron Man events.

“I was somewhat of an overweight nerdy kid throughout much of junior high, but always had a dream that I kept quiet of being able to move fast on my feet,” Shaffer said. “It was my father who inspired me by no other act than seeing him discover the benefits of an evening jog and a healthy diet. Running did not come easily, but it always made me feel better about everything.”

Sam Shaffer qualified for the IronKids national event in September. Sam is a top miler with a personal record of 4:54:08 and Jim Shaffer said his son’s interest in triathlon seems to be an increasingly popular trend among all types of athletes for its cross-training value. (Image courtesy Dr. Jim Shaffer)

Fitness Is An Asset

Schaffer recalls the first time he completed running the distance of a mile.

“My father practically threw a party,” Shaffer said. “He was no Olympic-level athlete, but the fact that he was proud reinforced in me that fitness was an asset.”

As he grew older, he also developed an interest in medicine.

“Going way back, I’d say one of my first role models was my mother,” he said. “She is a nurse whose experiences working in a family physician’s office filled me with interest and drove my curiosity. Another role model for me was a cardiologist for whom I worked for many years as a landscaper. He was a pioneer within our community of many of the early non-invasive coronary interventions. I was totally enamored with having the skills to directly save and improve lives.”

Upon graduation from high school, Shaffer really began to take his running seriously and took aim at an eventual career in medicine.

“Running as a regular way of life really matured for me in college when I observed the track and field team at Malone College,” he said. “I appreciated their staunch discipline, strict nutrition and mental focus. They were not only superb athletes, but also some of the best students. This is when I clearly established personal goals about fitness and performance in all aspects of life.”

Dr. Jim Shaffer, shown racing in the Boston Marathon this year, began running marathons in medical school. His top finishes include 2:56:42 at the Boston marathon, 12:21 in the New Zealand Ironman, and 5:32:20 in the Half Ironman. (Image courtesy Dr. Jim Shaffer)

Marathons In Medical School

Wrapping up undergraduate studies cum laude at Malone College, Shaffer attended medical school at Ohio State University’s College of Medicine.

“I began running marathons in medical school, which bolstered my energy and personal confidence. I qualified for the Boston Marathon while running in my third Columbus Marathon,” he said. “I have been to Boston 11 times as it has become a sort of ‘barometer of aging’ given the age-old qualifying standards.”

He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Ohio State University’s Medical Center/Nationwide Children’s Hospital, also completed a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, and, after he had been in practice for five years, obtained a Master of Health Administration degree at the University of Florida.

“I perceived medicine as an opportunity to apply science, art and faith to healing. Initially, I seriously considered pursuing the ministry,” Shaffer said. “A passion for understanding the scientific basis for human performance and behavior made medicine a natural choice.”

He said he also made a great decision when he married his wife, Andrea, who is deeply interested in health and fitness.

Sam Shaffer’s IronKids award for finishing the gruelling event. (Image courtesy Dr. Jim Shaffer)

“She has been an athlete all of her life,” Shaffer said. “Competition barefoot skiing, fitness and water polo are a few of her fortes. The bottom line is that the love of sport and passion for personal fitness is a shared value that helps regulate a lot of common behaviors. These values have been easily imparted to our sons simply by ‘living and walking the talk’ and setting expectations related to fitness at an early age.”

As he settled into his career–practicing as a member of MIMA in Melbourne from 2000 to 2004, then joining Health First in 2004 to implement the first eICU in the Southeastern U.S. and on to launching Health First Pulmonary and Critical Care in 2006–Shaffer has maintained and expanded his fitness pursuits.

“Triathlon is a sport that I fell into while dealing with a series of running-related injuries right around age 40,” he said. “Cross-training opened the door to cycling and swimming, both of which I immediately relished.”

Dr. Jim Shaffer's son, Sam, ran the Boston Athletic Association 5K this year, placing third out of more than 100 runners in his age division and 100th overall out of the more than 6,000 5K participants. (Image courtesy Dr. Jim Shaffer)

Family of Iron Men

The ultimate test however for Shaffer and the family, which by now has grown to include sons Benjamin, 10, and Samuel, 14, was competing in an Iron Man event.

“First of all, if you are married and you want to complete an Ironman distance triathlon, it is almost mandatory that both partners share the goal,” Shaffer said. “It takes a tremendous amount of time and relentless focus over a 12 to 18 month period. Training, sleeping, and rigid adherence to proper nutrition constantly trump many otherwise fun social activities.

“Triathlon is an individual sport. Marriage is not,” he said. “By its very nature, this training intensity is a selfish act and unless you are both on board, there is a high probability that some turbulence, even if temporary, will arise.”

Dr. Jim Shaffer said his most memorable race remains the first time he ran in the Boston Marathon. (Image courtesy Dr. Jim Shaffer)

He said the thrill of competition is only a small part of what drives his family to compete in these types of events.

“More than anything, races are the goals by which we remain motivated to practice, maintain good habits and make healthy choices,” Shaffer said.

His top finishes include his personal marathon record of 2:56:42 about 10 years ago in the Boston Marathon. His top time in the Ironman was 12:21 in New Zealand. And Shaffer set his best time ever in the Half Ironman in May here in Florida at 5:32:20.

Shaffer said his most memorable race remains the first time he ran in the Boston Marathon.  “As the oldest race in America and one of the few with qualifying standards, it represents one of the most coveted goals for amateur distance runners,” he said.

Something else Shaffer takes pride in is that his son Samuel is now following him into running.

“He is a top miler with a personal record of 4:54:08. He also won the Ohio State championship in his age division in the 2 mile,” he said. “His abilities have really just blown up within the last year. He has an excellent coach and has rapidly developed machine-like habits as it relates to nutrition, sleep and training. I am also elated that his academic performance has escalated in conjunction with his running prowess.”

Dr. Jim Shaffer is the Medical Director of Health First’s VitalWatch Program and also maintains a practice in pulmonary, critical care and sleep disorders in Cocoa Beach, Viera, Palm Bay and Melbourne. ( image))

‘A Pair of Running Shoes and Out the Door’

Shaffer said his son’s interest in triathlon seems to be an increasingly popular trend among all types of athletes for its cross-training value.

“Sam does not regularly bike nor swim so when he qualified for the US IronKids Championship, we were all impressed,” he said. “He plans to spend much of his summer in Florida working with a triathlon coach in order to develop his triathlon skills and gain experience.”

So with his family on board with his passion for running and his medical career on track, Shaffer’s life has come full circle to his early days of stepping outside and hitting the pavement.

“The best thing about running is the simplicity,” he said. It’s cheap and time efficient. All you need is a pair of running shoes and you’re out the door.”