Medicine, running bring Rayford full circle

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Vernon Rayford didn’t plan to become a doctor or a runner.

But his personal and professional journeys turned to bring him back to both. Rayford is board certified in internal medicine, pediatrics and obesity medicine and started running marathons in 2017. This year, he completed the New Orleans and New York City marathons.

The seeds of both his medical career and running habit go back to childhood in Holly Springs.

“It all fits together,” Rayford said.

His father, Van Rayford, was an avid runner.

“He ran all the time,” Rayford said. “I thought he was crazy.”

Young Rayford hate running.

“I totally thought of running as punishment,” said Rayford, who played football during high school.

Growing up, Rayford also had no shortage of physician role models in his family, but he wasn’t initially drawn to the profession. After high school graduation, he went into the pharmacy program at University of Mississippi.

“I really wanted to be a researcher,” Rayford said

It wasn’t until a clinical pharmacy rotation at IMA-Tupelo that he started seriously considering a career as a physician.

“I really enjoyed the interaction with people,” Rayford said.

Rayford followed his interest and entered Vanderbilt Medical School after finishing his six-year pharmacy degree. The pharmacy degree was helpful in and out of the classroom for medical school.

“Pharmacy school was great preparation for the pace and amount of information you have to learn,” Rayford said.

He also worked as a retail pharmacist on weekends and school breaks.

“It was a great opportunity to earn money while in medical school,” Rayford said.

His post medical school training took him to Massachusetts General in Boston, but he and wife Themesha were excited return to Mississippi and Tupelo in 2013 with infant son Vincent.

‘Healing himself’

During pharmacy, medical school and residency, Rayford gained a lot of weight.

“I was always the biggest guy in the room,” Rayford said. “When I went to my college reunion I could barely close my coat.”

At age 33, he reached 376 pounds and decided he needed to make changes. He decided to approach it from an academic standpoint, looking at research on food, exercise and environmental influences on weight gain and loss. It would ultimately lead him to be board certified in obesity.

He made simple changes, cutting out junk and fast food and getting better sleep. He tracked food and physical activity. He has maintained a 120-pound weight loss.

“It really didn’t take it as much to make me full as I thought,” Rayford said. “I didn’t have to be as restrictive as you might think.”

He started running in small spurts, alternating jogging and walking. In 2015, he signed up for the Race for the Cure 5K.

“I just wanted to finish,” Rayford said. When he finished, “I realized I had run the whole 3.1 miles without stopping.”

He started picking up 5Ks every month and in May 2016 tackled his first 10K. In September 2016, he ran his first half marathon. He no longer runs to lose weight.

“Along the way, I learned I loved to run,” Rayford said. “I run because it brings me so much joy.”

In 2017, he ran his first three marathons in Little Rock, Tupelo and Memphis.

Now he and two running buddies are working their way through the world’s six major marathons – New York, Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, Berlin and London.

They started in 2018 with the Chicago Marathon and continued with the New York Marathon.

He and his friends have been accepted to run on the Berlin Marathon team to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Since 2016, Rayford has raised $16,000 for children’s cancer research and care. As part of participating in the Berlin Marathon, he is aiming to raise $10,000.

His weight loss and health journey has made him a better doctor.

“It has really enhanced what I can do in the clinic,” Rayford said. “I know it’s a daily struggle.”