Ottawa

Runner goes the extra mile to thank front-line workers

Mike Herzog is a federal public servant by day, but in the early hours of each morning through May, he's a moving, one-man cheering section for the front-line health-care workers he calls heroes.

'I can't save lives, but at least I can support the people who are,' Mike Herzog says

Mike Herzog greets front-line health-care workers as they arrive for their shift at The Ottawa Hospital. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Mike Herzog is a federal public servant by day, but in the early hours of each morning through May, he's a moving, one-man cheering section for the front-line health-care workers he calls heroes.

Herzog has committed to running 14 kilometres each day around The Ottawa Hospital's General campus and CHEO. His initiative is part of a larger volunteer movement called Ottawa Heroes.

"I can't save lives, but at least I can support the people who are," said the 47-year-old.

Herzog zips along sidewalks and bike paths carrying a bilingual sign of thanks. When he comes across hospital personnel in scrubs and lanyards during the 7 a.m. shift change, he calls out a heartfelt thank you.

Nick Marum, left, joins Mike Herzog, centre, on a run. In the foreground is palliative and intensive care physician Kwadwo Kyeremanteng. (Kwadwo Kyeremanteng)

"At the front end of the pandemic people were out banging their pots and pans and really supporting," said Herzog.

Now, some of those demonstrations of gratitude have waned, even if the sentiment behind them remains.

"I understand the fatigue ... but it's way too important during a third wave, and all the waves that our front line have endured, not to come out and show and express our gratitude." 

Even the distance he runs each day comes from the heart. "That represents the 14 months that our front-line workers have endured COVID. It totals 434 kilometres in a month, which roughly equates to the number of days that they've been dealing with COVID as well," Herzog noted.

Shift change at The Ottawa Hospital. 'I know that a lot of these people had to psych themselves up to come back into work,' Herzog said. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Not every hospital worker Herzog greets calls back, but that's OK.

"Many just stand up a little straighter, some thank me back, others simply look down," he said. "These people are stressed out."

Herzog said he can tell whether a hospital staffer is starting or finishing their shift by their body language.

"When they're walking out, you can see they're deflated. On the way in, I know that a lot of these people had to psych themselves up to come back into work," he said.

"I know they don't all feel like heroes, I know that they don't want to be heroes, but they're here showing up every day and that makes them a hero to me."

Herzog's wife Genevieve is an occupational therapist in the General's surgical oncology ward, and also works in the ICU. 

"She shows up every day, not only for patients, but also for her colleagues. Her colleagues show up for her. It's a massive team effort that is going on in this hospital," he said.

Going the distance: Herzog hammers out one more kilometre on the paths near The Ottawa Hospital's General campus. (Michael Stashin)

Even with COVID-19 infection rates finally trending down and vaccination ramping up, Herzog said the fight is far from over.

"They're still battling, so as much as we might see some light, the ICU is filled," he said. "I don't think the page is turning quite yet for them. I think they come in every day facing an uphill battle."

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng is among the many front-line health-care workers who appreciate Herzog's efforts.

Why this man is running 14 kilometres a day as a tribute to health-care workers

3 months ago
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Mike Herzog is running 14 kilometres every morning during the month of May as a tribute to front-line health-care workers, who are now in their 14th month of the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:02

"It just screams to us that somebody ... is just really appreciative of the dedication and sacrifice," Kyeremanteng said. "So to have that level of encouragement, it's fuel."

Herzog's campaign of gratitude will culminate May 31 with an ultra-distance run called Going the Extra Mile.

 "Just like our front-line workers," he said.

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