Written by physical therapist Peter Schrey, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Over the last six years I have been fortunate enough to be part of the amazing all-volunteer medical team at major track & field events at Hayward Field in Eugene (US Olympic Trials in 2008 and 2012 and USA championships in 2009 and 2011 as well). For those of you not familiar with Hayward Field, it is a legendary place in the track & field world. In July, I was part of the multi-disciplinary medical team staffing the IAAF World Junior Championships. These ’19 and under’ athletes are the Olympic champions of the future. What was unique about this event, was the fact it brought in athletes from more than 160 countries to Oregon (for the first time ever) to compete over a week.
What always strikes me most about these events is how they could never happen without the years of hard work from all the staff and volunteers that make it happen. It is truly a massive logistical operation. You have thousands of athletes from all corners of the globe descending on the University of Oregon campus to practice, eat, sleep, and compete. Our primary mission was to make the experience as stress free and pain free as possible. The medical team consisted of physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nurses, and students. Athletes could come to our tent at Hayward Field or the practice field at Lane Comm College from 9am to 8pm to receive free treatment for ANY new or existing injury they had or just to help recover from their workouts.
I worked the first couple of days of the Championships, during a time many countries were just arriving and they were nervous and tight from the 25 hour plane ride, and had never experienced a meet of this magnitude. Most of them were blown away that there was on-demand medical care as a lot of countries don’t have a sports medicine program to speak of for junior athletes. We treated everything from plantar fasciitis in a Kenyan steeplechaser to hamstring strains in Ukranian javelin throwers and patellar tendonitis in South African 400m runners. We had to get a British 5000m runner an MRI for a possible pelvic stress fracture and pain medications for the Turkish runner who’s wisdom teeth were coming in!
The thing that struck me the most was the common purpose and purity that exuded so many of these teens; and allowed them all to forget, albeit just for a little while, what was going on back home. I was stopped by two young kids from Qatar who just arrived in Eugene and didn’t know where their coach was. The funniest bunch was the athletes from Trinidad and Tobago who turned the ice bath recovery tubs into a rollicking pool party (especially when the Swedish female high jumpers showed up). There was one kid from Zimbabwe, a 200m sprinter, who flew here by himself, first time out of his country. His coach wasn’t coming for a couple of days and he, politely in perfect queen’s English, asked for a hamstring massage and stretch after a workout. He was focused, brave and wide-eyed, embodying the essence of amateur sport. I chatted with an Argentinian hammer thrower about their narrow defeat in the World Cup Soccer match recently. The Italian boys wasted no time getting some American girls phone numbers. There were two Israeli athletes who seemed just happy to be out of the war torn country for a while. The Ukranian physiotherapist (a term we learned for the jack-of-all-trades sports therapist that exists in most other countries) was ALWAYS working on one of his athletes and somehow we were able to get past massive language barriers to help him use the ultrasound and laser machines.
I was able to learn a lot from the Great Britain sports medicine team about how PT is delivered in their country; both challenges and successes of universal health care. I found out how invaluable Google Translate can be when an entire country’s delegation speaks no English. The most compelling interaction I had was not with an athlete at all, but rather the medical director for the Ethiopian team, Dr Gemechis Mamo. He is a primary care physician who sees 60-70 patients A DAY 6 days A WEEK at his practice in Addis Abba. Due to the lack of junior athlete funding, he has no formal sports medicine training and came here on a volunteer basis. I ended up treating him for forearm tendonitis caused by having to hand-write the 60-70 chart notes back home. Little did I know that 4 of his athletes would disappear from the delegation at the end of the meet, possibly trying to seek asylum in Portland (they were found a few days later).
I look forward to doing these events because I love what I do, I learn from other providers from all over the world, and get a chance to give back where so many have already given so much. But most of all, what fills me the most and gets me fired up to come back to Step & Spine Physical Therapy in little old Central Oregon, is the Pure Sport of it all. Some of these kids come from terrible places and have little-to-no support to get to the level they are at, and for one week, they are all the same: amazing athletes with the brightest of futures. No war, no poverty, no glass ceiling. Just track & field. I honestly can’t wait for the next one.
Feel free to ask me about it next time you are in Step & Spine Physical Therapy or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.