The Bliss of Breck Runner Doc PJ
Using trails for the greater good
Photo by Devon O'Neil
Dr. C. Louis Perrinjaquet is a cross between Santa Claus, Robinson Crusoe and a Tarahumara Indian, with a hint of Mother Theresa.
His trail-running shoes—the “PJ 5s”—are sandals he made from a snowmobile-trailer tire and nylon climbing webbing. He runs, in the words of longtime friend Jeffrey Bergeron, “like an elf.” He was once Michael Jackson’s personal doctor but now specializes in family and sports medicine in the small ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado. He rides a bike instead of driving a car, spends half his annual income treating impoverished people in wild nations and is the only person to have completed all 14 editions of the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon, a 24.5-mile, above-treeline behemoth that climbs 5,500 vertical feet.
Doc PJ, as he is known around town, never turns on his heat unless he has visitors; he prefers to work in the down suit a friend bought him, even on nights when it is 20 degrees below zero. He takes cold showers to conserve energy, buys giant bags of rice and beans to avoid excess packaging and brings used plastic sandwich bags to his local natural foods store so the owner won’t buy new ones. He also teaches transcendental meditation out of his living room and breathes exclusively out of his nose.
“He’s a really kind-hearted person, who’s just a little bit wacky,” says Kate Lapides, a friend of PJ’s for 15 years.
During the summer, PJ, 54, runs six or seven days a week from his back door. He is lithe and strong, like a healthy aspen, and is quite youthful looking for a man his age. But he doesn’t run to maintain his appearance, or to train for the Breck Crest, or to be social. He runs because it’s the best way he knows to prepare for his self-funded medical missions—the twice- or thrice-a-year trips he makes to ravaged Third World countries like Darfur and Haiti.
Native to an 800-person farm town in Iowa, PJ is a jungle doctor. He often spends a week tromping through dense bush with a 50-pound pack to get to those in need. If he is not fit enough to make it, the entire mission is useless. So he runs his local dirt roads and trails religiously, always on his toes, sometimes with a bugle, sounding the call at the top of mountain passes.
“I want to be able to run five or 10 miles forever,” he says.
He has treated people in 13 countries over 20 years, including 15 trips to Honduras. The needs vary by locale: in Darfur, in 2007, he spent much of his time cleaning out gunshot wounds; last year in Cameroon, his primary task was to pull pygmy teeth that’d been filed sharp as razor blades. He says $5,000 to $10,000 can treat 5,000 people and also provide supplies and infrastructure.
“You can relieve a lot of suffering by doing really simple stuff,” he says. “In Cameroon, I probably saved two or three people’s lives just by pulling bad teeth.”