Contact: Christine Phelan Kueter: 434-982-3312
(4-18-2012) Nursing student Tracy Welling (MSN ’13) has tended her share of aching feet. She’s hydrated the spent, urged the exhausted up massive sand dunes and, shod in sneakers with 35-pounds of supplies on her back, trekked across some of the world’s most remote, barren and starkly beautiful terrain.
All for fun.
A some-time emergency pediatrics nurse at Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia, Welling (pictured, at right, at a medical tent in the Gobi Desert, in China) – who’s currently entering her second year in the School of Nursing’s CNL program, offered to students with at least a bachelor’s degree in another field who are interested in advanced practice nursing – recently returned from Chile, where she worked on a team ministering to the health needs of 170 athletes making the 250 km (nearly 156 miles) journey in seven days.
“It’s a great way to branch yourself out to the world,” said Welling.
The 4 Deserts race – a sort of off-the-beaten-path IronMan that requires runners to carry their food and bedding in packs through scorching heat and blistering sun and wind – is midway through its 2012 itinerary. So far, participants have crossed China’s Gobi Desert and Chile’s Atacama Desert, and soon they’ll trek through the Sahara and, finally, Antarctica. They run the equivalent of a marathon each day for six days, with a shorter trek on the final day.
Under extreme conditions, Welling -- who grew up in Maryland, attended University of South Carolina and Marymount before arriving at U.Va. – worked as either a “sweeper,” walking behind the slowest racers, or sped ahead to set up checkpoints and a medical tent at the end. It was exhausting, dirty, exhilarating work.
And right up her alley.
“An experience like this gives you a huge, profound respect for the rest of the world,” she said. “You know in your head that we’ve got it good, that in America, it’s the best of the best, and then you go to other places and, as a health care provider, it doesn’t even compare.”
The experiences fortify both her work as a trauma nurse and reinforce her plans to continue her education to become a nurse practitioner. It’s also stretched her in ways she hadn’t planned.
“I think at U.Va., the professors here and the program in general, it makes you want to get outside your comfort zone,” she said. “The professors say to us, ‘Yes, go, and then tell us what you did when you get back. It’s all part of the flexibility and respect that this university, this program, carries.”
And the volunteer work reminds her that she’s well-suited to the profession.
“It reinforces why you do what you do, as a nurse,” she said.