Much like Forrest Gump was just compelled to run ceaselessly in his eponymous film, Dr. Monica Metzdorf said she simply decided a few weeks ago she would walk.
Now, the key difference between the fictitious Gump and the very real pediatric urologist is that Metzdorf started last Saturday at the Los Angeles Zoo and by tomorrow — or hopefully today — will have reached the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The Glendale resident also has inspired folks from all over to donate money to her clear cause: feeding the animals at these local institutions.
“I’m just thrilled with the amount of support that I’m getting, with the response on Facebook and Instagram and such,” Metzdorf said, speaking from her hotel room in San Clemente on Wednesday evening. “People are just really excited about it, and that’s what keeps me going really. When my legs get tired and my feet get tired, all these people cheering me on make my feet just a little bit lighter.”
As of Friday, Metzdorf’s fans have pitched in more than $8,805 toward the fundraiser coinciding with her journey. She plans to split the money in donations to the L.A. Zoo, San Diego Zoo and Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach to help continue to feed their animals after the pandemic completely dried up their income.
“So far, I’m really good,” she added Wednesday. “After the first day, I had one good-sized blister on my right foot that I’ve been fighting the whole time, but I’ve learned to bandage it up for the day and it hasn’t bothered me too much. Some sore muscles and shin splints. I think it’s going amazingly well.”
Metzdorf, who with husband Bill has lived in Glendale for 11 years, said two news stories helped inspire her suddenly. One concerned Tom Moore, a 99-year-old veteran in the U.K. who raised the equivalent of $33 million by walking 100 paces around his vast garden before his 100th birthday. Moore, who had just undergone surgery for a broken hip, did so as a thank-you to the underfunded National Health Service during the pandemic.
The other concerned local news reports about how the Oakland Zoo and San Diego Zoo obviously still had to feed and care for their animals, but had to do so without income. The pandemic has closed zoos and aquariums while designating their staff as essential employees.
So, the 53-year-old Metzdorf said she would walk the 150 miles to Escondido to help out, even though she admitted to having never been “particularly interested” in walking for sport. She made it to the aquarium in Long Beach the very first day.
“It’s been a great experience to prove to myself that I could do it,” she said. “Having not done marathons or 10Ks or anything, now that I know that I can do it, yeah I might do something like this again.”
Though she has been a medical doctor, she admits to a passion for animals, fish and wildlife in general that dates back to her college days, when she earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fish conservation biology at UC Davis before embarking to medical school.
During her residency at the University of San Diego Medical Center, she even got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to assist a friend with an operation on a zoo gorilla.
“That was a truly unforgettable experience,” Metzdorf said.
As the doctor walks, her husband isn’t far away. After pondering the logistics of rest and bathroom breaks when the COVID-19 pandemic has closed pedestrian access to most restaurants, a friend advised them to rent an RV. Now, she gives herself a rest break, complete with Gatorade and trail snacks, every three or so miles.
“If you had told me three weeks ago I would be doing this during the month of May, I’d have said you were out of your mind,” Bill Metzdorf quipped on Friday. “We’ve had a great time laughing about it. It’s one of those things that could make for a great story down the line.”
Those interested can follow the Metzdorfs’ journey on their website, docwalks4animals.com, where the doctor’s day is blogged with photos, videos and map trackers and donors can use PayPal to send money. Their goal of raising $7,500 for the journey was actually met by the time it began last Saturday, and since then, they’ve been happy to accept more.
“They’re still coming in every day, so we’ll see where things go,” Monica Metzdorf said.
When Bill Metzdorf spoke on Friday, he noted that his wife had exceeded her distance goal on Thursday, making it down to Carlsbad even through the mounting shin splints. She was back at it at 7 a.m. Friday.
“The weather couldn’t be any better for her today,” he said. “She’s really doing exceptionally well and is enjoying that she’s doing something that can raise some money to help our zoos and aquariums.”
Monica Metzdorf added that her long, scenic look at Southern California has been wonderful, especially with the cooperative weather. Fewer motorists on the road because of the shutdowns have made the journey more pleasant, too.
“It’s always nicer to have fewer cars driving by you,” she said. “The air has been clear and crisp in the mornings and it’s just sunny in the afternoons. The air quality’s been great. It’s the perfect time to walk.”
And what about afterward, to help recover from the blisters and shin splints?
“I have to be back at work on Monday,” she chuckled.