Q&A with Dr. Marcus Newberry, founder of the Cooper River Bridge Run
Dr. Marcus Newberry arrived at the Medical University of South Carolina in 1971 and held a series of leadership roles from dean and academic vice president to provost before retiring in 1998.
Born in Georgia and educated at Northwestern University and Emory Medical School, perhaps Newberry’s greatest contribution to the Charleston community was founding the Cooper River Bridge Run in 1978. At the time, it was an event he hoped would foster the practice of lifelong wellness.
Currently residing in North Carolina, Newberry has remained committed to health in the Palmetto State. He has served on South Carolina’s Climate Change Committee, he maintains a “lifestyle management” practice in the Upstate, and he serves as chairman of the steering committee for Lighten Up Charleston, a wellness initiative created by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
Q: For those who don’t know the origins of the Cooper River Bridge Run, take us back to 1977. What was the genesis?
A: By the 1970s, it was apparent to me that medical care was dominating health in the United States and it could not deliver the expectations of good health and wellness. The Cooper River Bridge Run was initiated to promote healthy lifestyle, fitness and wellness in the Lowcountry and to serve as a model and laboratory for wellness.
Q: Did you ever think that the Bridge Run would be this big — the seventh largest race in the United States?
A: I never expected the run to become an international event and grow to the current size. The run struggled during the early years, and it is a credit to many people and the community organizations comprising the board that it survived and eventually thrived. The Lowcountry adopted the run and made it truly a community event.
Q: What has the Bridge Run achieved for Charleston in regards to wellness?
A: I believe there are people who began to engage in regular physical activity due to the Bridge Run. And I believe it and Children’s (Kids) Run, plus all the associated activities keep fitness and wellness in the forefront for the community.
Q: As a medical doctor, you were way ahead of your time in encouraging people to exercise and eat right. Has the medical profession come far enough — especially considering all we know about exercising and eating — in promoting prevention over cure?
A: No, I don’t see the medical profession doing enough to promote wellness or prevention over cure, but they are moving in that direction. On the other hand, medical care does not cure many health problems. Changing behavior can prevent many health problems, but that is not easy and the medical care model may not be the best way to accomplish such change. Public health and community health are different endeavors from medical care and it is time for them lead. But don’t expect the change without turmoil and resistance.
Q: What are some of the efforts you’d like to see happen in terms of wellness initiatives in South Carolina and the Charleston area?
A: I would like to see the Lighten Up Charleston project expand to include the entire Lowcountry and join with other community projects throughout the state to develop better health. As a practical matter, it would be beneficial for state government to join the effort in an attempt to reduce the need and cost for Medicaid. Not an easy task, I assure you. There are programs and dedicated people already in place that require coordination and support.
Q: Do you plan to be here for the Bridge Run this year? Do you come most years?
A: I do plan to be at the run this year, and I do return for most of the runs. Also, I serve on the board for the run, and I try to make as many of the meetings as possible. (Race Director) Julian Smith has been a good friend for many years, and I try to support him, the staff and the board as best I am able.
Q: When you are here for the Bridge Run, is there a certain place you like to watch or any traditions you have?
A: My favorite place to view the start of the run is on the scaffolding over the start line. Best seat in the house. I see many old and new friends from there.