The USA Olympic Training Center Experience
Dr. Lisa Goodman, DC, CCSP, CACCP
Last week I had the privilege of working as part of the sports medicine team at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs. The rotation was scheduled to last for two weeks, but for reasons I’ll tell you in this blog, it was abbreviated to one week.
So why was I at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs?
There are three Olympic Training Centers, Colorado Springs, Chula Vista and Lake Placid. They are all staffed by a full time sports medicine crew which generally includes Chiropractors, Physical Therapists and Athletic Trainers. In addition to the full time staff, they run with a rotating, invitation-only traveling staff. Taking care of olympians is taken very seriously, and therefore only credentialed Certified Chiropractic Sports Physicians are invited to take part in a two week rotation at one of the OTCs. This is an experience that sports chiropractors covet and look forward to from the early days of training in chiropractic school. It is often one of the reasons that a new chiropractor will become sports certified. I applied for the rotation last year and was accepted and scheduled for September. I didn’t realize at the time I was scheduled that it would be two weeks after the Rio Olympics. As the rotation drew nearer, it occurred to me that the training center might not be super busy...more on that later...
So did I meet, treat or eat with Olympians?
I can answer two of those questions definitively! Let’s start with the dining hall experience. This was incredible and so ‘normal’ that it is hard to explain. At my first meal, which was dinner on Labor day, I loaded up my plate (chicken, rice, veggies), got my iced tea and chose a booth. One of my medical staff partners, a PT jokingly told me that I’d sat in the athlete’s ‘section’. It suddenly dawned on me that there may indeed be a hierarchy to seating, sections, etc. We decided to risk it! Partly because it was evident that there were not a ton of athletes on campus (more on that later). End result - eating dinner (and all subsequent meals) at a table right next to USA gymnasts, men and women. Right there. I cannot name names, suffice to say, if you watched the Rio games, you’d know all of these athletes. It was pretty surreal, eating every meal while hanging out with the world’s best. Some of the guys even weighed in on my fantasy football draft which was last Tuesday night!
My role at the OTC
So what is my role? Home base was the Sports Medicine Clinic on campus. However, we had to ‘cover’ or watch practices. During my week I covered wrestling and gymnastics. The gymnasts were in town training for their Kelloggs Tour of Champions. Covering these events means being present and ready as a first responder. It does not mean adjusting or treating musculoskeletal injuries on location in the gym. Treatment was reserved for the clinic. While I love treating, it was a highlight of each day to observe these world class athletes learn choreography, and train right before my eyes.
Back at the clinic I was involved with a true team-care approach. A 16 year old male figure skater presented with shoulder pain. I was able to work together with two PTs to diagnose, treat and begin a strength training on-site and home care program with him. Perhaps one of the most fascinating athletes I treated was a skeletoner. You know, the event where you race 80mph face first on your stomach on a sled down a track of sheer ice. That’s the one. This gentleman was awesome. He had a harrowing survival story, which is what got him into skeleton and he’s a rising star. I cannot wait to see where his journey takes him next. This is the thrill of working at the OTC. Making a difference in the lives of athletes. Some are high profile, famous, professionals. Others are just starting out, amateur, but wildly talented. Both groups are equally in need of chiropractic care and it felt ridiculously special to be a part of their care.
The OTC Perks - and the Gym
All traveling medical providers do so on a volunteer basis. The OTC provides dorm-style accommodations and all meals at the dining hall. I also came home with lots of official Team USA and OTC gear, which is a bonus! In addition to housing, meals and gear, one of the best perks of spending time at the OTC is working out at the gym/training facility. It is world class. Not only that, but it is nearly brand new. There is a turf covered ramp for doing uphill sprints which was awesome (but got you winded fast!!). The rowing machines are set up facing giant windows with nothing by Pikes Peak in your view. One fascinating thing to me about living in Denver is the acclimation to altitude. I lead a workout with a few other visiting sports med professionals and the altitude was definitely impacting their endurance. This highlights one of the reasons that athletes like training in Colorado Springs.
One of my favorite anecdotes about training in the olympic gym involves my workout! So, as a relative newbie to Crossfit (9 months in) I was super excited to complete a workout posted by my gym - Crossfit Wash Park - at the OTC. Spoiler alert: the barbell plates are in Kilos (not pounds). What???!!! As I was starting my warm up and loaded up some plates they were feeling really heavy. At first I thought it was because I was because I had a few people working out with me (so much pressure!) or because tours walking by were taking photos of us lifting in the gym. For whatever reason these ‘warm up’ weights felt super heavy. I persisted and loaded what I thought was a 105 pound deadlift and muscled it up, but it was a huge struggle. At which point, It dawned on me...these weights were in Kilos!! That was not 105, it was 177lbs!! Whooops. Soooo, yes I set my personal record (PR) for both Clean and Jerk and Deadlift that day. Wow. Turned out to be quite an exercise in sports psychology! Sometimes, if you think you can lift it, it goes a long way. The gym director told me that it was a common occurrence for athletes to set PRs in the olympic gym.
The OTC Technology
There are a lot of cool advantages to being an Olympic Athlete, obviously. One really cool thing that is happening right now, is the use of thermal imaging. The trainers at the OTC take thermal photos of uninjured athletes and track them periodically. I suppose the theory is that as muscles or tendons show an increase in heat, they may be predisposed to injury. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how this technology pans out. Another really amazing technology being used is the High Altitude Training Center (HATC). This room - comprised of cardio equipment including bikes - can adjust from 20% humidity to 80% humidity. It can also adjust from 200 feet below sea level to 21,000 feet above sea level. What???!!! Lastly, a treadmill recovering athletes use to train their cardio without bearing full weight on their knees and ankles is called the AlterG anti-gravity system. THey wear a harness that supports them at varying weights so that the can comfortably run as fast as they want without damaging recovering joints.
I was pleased to see that a lot of the technologies and treatments used at the OTC are also used at Wash Park Chiropractic! As an evidence based, progressive office we are always bringing you what the pros are using. A few examples of this include the Normatec Recovery System, the Vyper foam roller and of course the Graston and RockTape Instruments and Tape.
I’m still reeling
My experience at the OTC was atypical in two ways. 1. I worked with pretty much the most high profile olympic athletes imaginable. This was so special, unexpected and rewarding. They are so impressive and their stories are so remarkable, but in the gym and in the clinic, they are kids, teenagers, patients. And I was their doctor, their chiropractor. 2. My residence at the OTC was cut short. This is seriously atypical. It occurred quite simply, because once the gymnasts left for the Kelloggs Tour of Champions, there were only 6 athletes left on campus. They graciously offered to let me return to my practice and defer my second week of OTC rotation until later in the winter. So when I return in January or February it will be cold and packed with winter olympic hopefuls. In other words, I truly get the best of both worlds. I get to return to my family at Wash Park Chiro and I get to return to the OTC in a few months for another round of what I’m sure will be a breathtaking, larger-than-life olympic experience.
Please check out my Instagram @lisakgoodman for a few posts from last weekWashington Park Chiropractic is the only practice in Denver, Colorado specializing in Sports Chiropractic, Prenatal Chiropractic and Pediatric Chiropractic. Our Wash Park Doctors are expert certified and trained in Sports, Pediatrics and Prenatal Care including massage, acupuncture, Webster Technique, Graston Technique, Laser, K-Laser, Kinesiology Tape, RockTape and Normatec