The Godbys: Running for naturopathy

Natural Vitality Living tells the story of one family running to raise awareness about a broken medical model and alternative medicine.

10 Min Read
The Godbys: Running for naturopathy

On a warm, clear August morning, an unusual sight made its way down the shoulder of a busy highway in Washington State. A tall, lean man ran slowly but steadily, pushing a jogging stroller. In place of a baby, though, were supplies like a sleeping bag and food. The man running wore a white T-shirt with “the run” spelled out in big block letters on the front and back.

Jeremiah Godby got a lot of attention that day—which was precisely the plan. The 19-year-old was on a mission to build awareness about naturopathic medicine. The running was not some fringe activity Jeremiah did to avoid a summer job. In fact, his dad wholeheartedly supported it.

The previous year his father, naturopathic doctor Dennis Godby, began The Run campaign to raise awareness about our nation’s broken medical model. The Run boils down to delivering this message: “To transform the nation’s health, the USA must undergo a paradigm shift in the way it thinks about health and disease.” Last year’s inaugural run hit 16 states, bringing the message to thousands of people, including 24 members of Congress; high school classes in Washington, DC; shop owners in Winnemucca, Nevada; and college students in Dayton, Ohio.

When The Run hit Boulder, Colo., Governor John Hickenlooper declared August 26 National Alternative Medicine Awareness Day. Dennis wants The Run to evolve into a permanent organization to help transform America’s health. This past August, Dennis’s two sons ran across the West Coast pushing baby strollers to get the word out about alternative medicine. It may seem a bit random, but if you’ve been using running as a vehicle for change for most of your life, like Dennis has, it makes pretty good sense.

An ailing healthcare model

You’d think for a man who is such a believer in naturopathic medicine that working as a practitioner in this field would be the dream job. But the day-in, day-out “touch one person at a time” approach was lacking meaningful effect for Dennis. He found his work as a clinical naturopathic physician simply not impactful enough to alter the path of our ailing medical system—a system he says relies on pharmaceutical drugs with nasty side effects that don’t treat root causes. “People are suffering across a broad spectrum, from life-threatening diseases like diabetes to joy-threatening conditions like anxiety,” he remarks. “They need to learn that options exist outside of drugs, such as diet and exercise.

“People simply aren’t taking care of themselves. We have to realize that our health, what we eat and our exercise, is a personal responsibility because it affects the whole society. So when we make these individual choices about how we take care of ourselves, they become communal choices,” Dennis points out.

Alongside lack of awareness and responsibility concerning wellness, Dennis was tired of alternative forms of medicine constantly playing second fiddle to drug-based medicine. “I remember one time when I went to this meeting of local business owners in Sacramento and nobody had ever heard of a naturopathic doctor; nobody knew what it was that I did for a living. I mean, it was pathetic. There is a real lack of awareness about it. I felt as if this group was symbolic of the rest of the nation,” 
laments Dennis.

Naturopathic medicine

Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the human body has an innate healing ability. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) teach their patients to use diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and natural therapies to enhance their bodies’ ability to prevent and combat disease. Naturopathic medicine uses a wide range of healing modalities, including herbalism, acupuncture, homeopathy and nutrition.

Dennis doesn’t want to see mainstream medicine disappear—just become more holistic. “I don’t see MDs as the enemy. I think that naturopathic and conventional doctors are perfect complements to one another. MDs have access to a lot of needed equipment that we don’t have; we have lots of functional tests that they don’t. Naturopathic medicine uses diagnostic tests to gauge a host of issues, such as imbalances in hormones, inflammation and digestion, in order to determine underlying causes.

“Conventional medicine is great for emergencies and surgeries, things like that,” Dennis says. “If a car hits someone, they go to a hospital. If someone is in a diabetic coma, they go to the hospital; but then they can see us to prevent that from happening again. I think that if we can get our egos out of it and do what is necessary and best for our patients, then we can move forward.”

Dennis believes the relationship between attitudes and beliefs and one’s health is also something that mainstream medicine doesn’t pay enough attention to. “We don’t talk about it, but I see it all the time in my patients—how attitude affects our health. There is so much pressure to be perfect these days. It’s particularly evident among patients who are moms, and it results in adrenal fatigue. A positive, grateful attitude is very important. I often cite the story of Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, where he attributes his surviving a German concentration camp 100 percent to his attitude. I think we can have a lot more control over our lives than we think, with attitude.”

Great doctors, not great promoters

Where naturopathic medicine does fall down for Dennis is in the area of promotion. “For some reason naturopathic doctors are the worst marketers; it’s unbelievable. I don’t really have an explanation for it, but it’s very frustrating. I think part of it is this lack of belief in ourselves, not so much as practitioners but from feeling beat up by the general lack of awareness of naturopathic doctors. People ask all the time, ‘Are you a real doctor?’ It gets tiring after a while. We go to medical school for four years, we take more classes than MDs, we take 18 more exams, and we work really hard. But yet when we graduate, people say, ‘Are you a real doctor?’”

Dennis would like to see more alternative clinicians in high-profile positions like Dr. Oz and Dr. Weil, both of whom are MDs. “Sometimes when I see them I get kind of irritated, not really at them but at us. Again, we aren’t doing enough to publicize ourselves, and there should be NDs up there with MDs. That’s why the point of The Run is to get our name out in the media and tell stories about how important natural medicine is; not that we are better, but we just need to raise our profile.”

There are organizations that exist representing naturopathic doctors; however, Dennis finds they simply can’t do enough. “There is an organization called AANP, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, which I think does a great job but it results in small changes at the state level. Yet even with these we don’t really think ‘Let’s get the word out to people; let’s go in and introduce ourselves.’ We kind of hang out like minor players; so it is not actually reaching the people, in my opinion.”

Running, again

It was these issues that had Dennis itching to get out and educate people about natural medicine. “I just thought that I would be more effective outside of the office. I felt like I had a mission to get out and tell American people about alternative healthcare and raise awareness, because just teaching individuals one by one, we are not going to accomplish anything. Sure, we are going to help those who come to us, but whenever I turned the corner, obesity and diabetes continued to worsen.”

It becomes easier to understand how a doctor in his fifties would run across the country to promote a cause when you realize he’s done it before. In 1978 Dennis was a recent university graduate with a degree in exercise physiology and nutrition, and he was feeling compelled to do something about the lack of awareness of exercise that pervaded that era. “Back in 1978, very few people exercised. There just wasn’t the understanding of the importance of either physical fitness or nutrition like there is now, so I decided to do a cross-country run to promote it,” he says. From Corvallis, Oregon, to Calgary in Alberta, Canada, Dennis would cover a total of 1,420 miles, running about 39 miles a day. He ran again in the 1980s, from San Francisco to Washington, DC, to promote peace in Central America.

The political run garnered some publicity, including a photo op with the then governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton. But it also had a spiritual impact on Dennis. “I was running 30 miles a day. I didn’t always know where or when I’d get food and drink or a place to sleep. I remember one time during the 1978 run I had hypothermia; another time I encountered a bear. I learned a lot about appreciation and gratitude and a realization that running like that can make a difference.

“It comes down to making a judgment call of what’s the best use of your time. People say, ‘Why don’t you spend your time teaching people nutrition, or something like that?’ I guess I am an activist and I need to create momentum, and teaching one by one is too slow. We need momentum and we need to get organized.”

The 2012 run

Running 30 miles a day, suffering cold sores, cramps and sunburn, is not how most college kids spend their summers. But Isaiah and Jeremiah want to spread the message they’ve acquired firsthand from being raised in a household that practices holistic medicine. “Growing up with my dad doing naturopathic medicine, we were amazed at how few people knew about it. We’d see people get sick and then just become sicker with conventional medicine. My brother and I got to learn firsthand how cool and effective naturopathic medicine really is,” Jeremiah says.

This year’s run kicked off in August with Jeremiah launching his 1,000-mile run in Blaine, Washington. Isaiah ran 760 miles beginning near the California-Mexico border town of San Ysidro. Their routes had them meet up at a rally in Central Park in Davis, California, on September 13, the last day of The Run. They blogged and tweeted throughout The Run, and Dennis helped organize the rallies and events along the route.

The brothers ran a combined 1,760 miles over the course of a month without the support of a chase vehicle or medical expert. They pushed their belongings in a jogging stroller. Their determination to run is enough to get observers’ attention. “People see us with messed up lips, weird sunburns and pushing strollers and they want to know what we’re doing,” relates Jeremiah. “Once they find out and they see this kid out doing this to try and change things, they get really excited and inspired.”

As word spreads of The Run, larger crowds gather at the rallies. But for the Godbys it’s often the chance interactions with people that affect them the most. “I remember last year I was in Ohio and we stopped in a bar to use the bathroom. There were these biker guys sitting at the bar and they asked what we were doing,” Dennis recalls. “We told them, and they were really interested and excited about it; they were practically in tears. And these are men who maybe are steelworkers or retired steelworkers, who are at a dark bar drinking in the middle of the day—not your typical guys into holistic medicine, but they were really into it.

“One thing that particularly stuck with me is that during last year’s run we talked to thousands of people and there wasn’t one person who said, ‘You know, there really should be more drugs; we need to use more pharmaceuticals; we need more surgery.’ No matter how little they knew about alternative medicine, they knew intuitively that we need to transform our model, not just rearrange the chairs on the Titanic, but really overhaul the system.”

The Run smacks of that once ubiquitous bumper sticker “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” The same logic can be applied to a group of men currently running across the country to promote doctors who use safe, preventive, effective medicine instead of drugs. Maybe one day we will fund our schools as well as we fund our military. Maybe one day we will fully embrace naturopathic physicians and their healing modalities.

Until then, the Godby family will run.

For more information on The Run, visit


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