Studying at Georgetown’s School of Medicine is not an easy task. Running marathons on every continent, including Antarctica, is another feat entirely. However, for Nick Stukel (GRD ’18, MED ’18), these very challenges are at the heart of his initiative: Strums & Strides.
Stukel, also a Master of Business Administration candidate at the McDonough School of Business, founded Strums & Strides in 2013 with the purpose of promoting the healing power of music on both the national and global levels. The majority of funds raised by Strums & Strides are remitted to its partner Musicians on Call, a nonprofit organization. Since 1999, Musicians on Call has been working to bring live and recorded music to hospital patients across the country. Volunteers often sing directly to patients, providing comfort and enjoyment at hospital bedsides.
Stukel said his partnership with the nonprofit group helps to “give a tangible effect to the fundraising.”
In terms of its “strides,” Stukel’s initiative revolves around his goal of becoming the first medical student to complete marathons on all seven continents. While preparing for his upcoming expedition to Antarctica in March, Stukel reflected on his experiences with Strums & Strides thus far.
Stukel first began playing the piano at the age of five, immediately falling in love with learning and performing music. Although his decision to pursue a career in medicine was difficult, Stukel resolved to continue to focus on music throughout his career. Eventually, he found an original way to combine his passions for medicine and music.
Stukel fully realized the extent to which music could impact health care after his grandfather had a stroke.
“Going with him to see different groups play and sing for that population … just to see how it lights them up, it really changes the atmosphere,” Stukel said. “Seeing how that can affect health care really impressed me, so I decided I wanted to do something to draw awareness to this idea that music can play a big role in medicine.”
Although Stukel did not develop a love of running as early in life as he did for music, his first half-marathon, completed during his senior year of college, changed his perspective. Stukel completed four major marathons as a part of Strums & Strides and travelled to Argentina, Germany, Tanzania and Thailand over the past two years as a part of his mission.
“It’s been … challenging, but eye-opening,” Stukel said. “I’ve also learned a lot about how music is really kind of a common thread throughout humanity. I’ve tried to play music on every continent that I’ve been on, and it’s been really fun to see how engaged people are, whether it’s in Thailand or Argentina or Germany.”
Stukel’s upcoming marathons, in March, July and October will take place in Antarctica, Australia and Washington D.C., respectively.
Preparing for his upcoming trip to Antarctica has posed a unique challenge for Stukel. His tasks include mentally preparing for a colder and more difficult marathon as well as physically adjusting — given the continent’s snowy terrain, Stukel must learn to safely run with shorter strides. Practicing for the event, he has spent time going on long runs in the D.C. area, as temperatures hit the 20-degree range.
Stukel’s next expedition will also demand a slightly different itinerary. He plans to board a polar vessel in Ushuaia, Argentina for a two-week round trip to Antarctica and spend five days on the continent. Stukel has been researching what supplies he can and cannot take to Antarctica and has adjusted his plan accordingly.
“I’m really nervous about the boat trip across the Great Passage — it’s supposed to be one of the rougher parts of the seas,” Stukel said. “I’m really looking forward to the chance to explore Antarctica a little bit, to see the penguins and all the wildlife down there, and to run, and … push my body to the limit and see how it goes.”
Stukel’s run of the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. this October marks the culmination of his efforts with Strums & Strides. He plans to continue contributing to research on music’s impact on medicine and patient care.
Stukel has also organized benefit concerts at Smith’s Piano Bar for Strums & Strides, bringing in Georgetown MBA and medical students to perform. He is planning two upcoming benefit concerts for 2017 and anticipates collaborating with other musicians.
For Stukel, his most significant memory so far is not of travelling or running. Rather, it was from a recent performance at Children’s National Medical Center. Ultimately, his key objective is to help enrich the lives of hospital patients through music, and his most recent experiences keep him ardent in his pursuits.
“A couple months ago, I was out there, and this girl — she was probably around 7 years old — started singing along with me, and it was adorable. And by the end, I noticed her mom was crying. … I asked her if she was okay and she said, ‘I’m better than okay, this is the first time she’s interacted with anybody in four weeks,’” Stukel said. “To just have this girl that hadn’t really interacted with anyone, for over a month, to come to life and just start singing and clapping, that was an incredible experience.”