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Eye surgeon's love of biking, running leads to 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity

Dr. Peter Francis competes in the World Duathlon Championships in Spain


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Dr. Peter Frances is preparing for the World Duathlon Championships set for June 1 in Pontevedra, Spain.Dr. Peter Francis has always been something of an athlete, playing lots of golf and tennis. But two years ago, he found he really had a knack for participating in duathlons, competitions of speed and endurance that combine biking and running.

That’s when Francis, an ophthalmologist who has worked at Oregon Eye Physicians and Surgeons in Sherwood and also sees patients at Dr. David Wolf’s Lake Oswego Vision Clinic on Boones Ferry Road, began winning many of the duathlons he entered. One of his biggest victories came after competing in three events — two in Oregon and the prestigious Black Diamond event held in Euneclaw, Wash. He won the latter race, earning him the title of Pacific Northwest Olympic-Length Duathlon Champion of 2013.

The Black Diamond event, a race he described as being “fairly hilly,” also earned Francis a slot in the National Duathlon Championships in Tucson in October, and qualified him for the prestigious World Championships that were held June 1 in Pontevedra, Spain.

“To be gathered together with so many athletes from around the world and yet have something in common with these people was immensely exhilarating,” he said after returning from Spain. “Participating was the reward.”

Francis’ wins are quite impressive, considering that he is peaking in duathlons at age 45 and that his training has had to compete with his day job, which consists of performing retina surgery, a specialty where he focuses on diseases such as macular degeneration and diabetes.

His medical background began in the United Kingdom, where he attended medical school and completed a residency in London. He was appointed to the faculty at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 2006. St. Thomas, which is just across from the Houses of Parliament, is renowned not only as the home of Florence Nightingale and other luminaries, but also as the site of the first recorded cataract with a lens implant surgery, which was conducted in the 1940s.

Francis has run marathons in the past. He participated in the 2013 Boston Marathon, where devastating explosions killed three people and injured many others. He finished that race well before the blasts, and it wasn’t until he was at the airport ready to return home that he began receiving the grim news via text messages on his phone.

“Slowly the information spread down the line that there’d been a bomb attack,” Francis recalled, saying he was out of communication for six hours as he flew from Boston to San Francisco. He ended up borrowing someone’s cell phone to learn details of the tragic event. “It was an awful thing that happened,” he said.

Francis expected the World Championship race in Spain would be flat and fast, but he said it was more like the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona. “The run was through the narrow streets of the old city,” he said, “and the bike portion was all uphill for six miles and all downhill on the way back.”

In addition, the first running leg of the race was five kilometers long - twice as long as usual - followed by the out-and-back bike ride and a final 2.5-kilometer run.

Fortunately, Francis had prepared well for the event. For the past three months, he trained four days a week, mornings and evenings, putting in about eight hours a week. His goal was to shoot for a combination of speed and endurance aboard his Cervelo bike, which he describes as both stiff and responsive.

His bike training sessions included some tough climbs, such as the long pull from Mount Hood to Rhododendron, as well as riding up to Crown Point and Rowena Crest along the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway, all of which he called challenging.

“It helps to build strength; it helps to build endurance,” said Francis, who was named the best up-and-coming medical researcher in the United Kingdom in 2002. “If I pull a muscle now, that could end the opportunity (to compete).”

That didn’t happen, of course. He continues to train right up to the day of events, and that persistence certainly paid off in Spain.

“It was,” he said, “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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