In 2014 I started doing interviews with therapists who had been a part of special events, such as the Olympic Trials. Through a series of events over that time, I was able to participate in the 2016 Track and Field Olympic Trails in Eugene, Oregon. Counting the Marathon Trials in February, this was essentially my second Olympic Trials, I was part of the Track Town Medical Team.
The medical team was made up of massage therapists, physical therapists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, acupuncturists, medical doctors, and a sonographer who was able to provide diagnostic ultrasounds for athletes with injuries. One fellow team member called this a “medical utopia.” Further down the way from us was a section reserved for personal medical, where athletes brought (likely paid them as well) their own therapists/chiropractors. These athletes were often sponsored and bigger names. Our medical team did see it’s share of world class athletes as well! We also saw many college athletes. Between these two tent sections was the ice tubs.
The Track Town Medical Team is a volunteer group, paying our own travel expenses to Eugene. Since we were volunteers, there was some flexibility in our availability. I felt that this might be my only chance to work an Olympic Trials and after discussing the financials of the trip with my wife, decided to attend for 12 days, essentially the entire duration plus a few extra days.
Although I was volunteer, TrackTown did provide housing in the campus dorms for no additional charge, as well as breakfast in the dining hall each morning. This accommodation is essentially what allowed me to stay the extra days. I spent just over $1000 in travel (flight, bag fees, airport shuttle), and about $200 in food (mainly dinner, snacks, lunch, etc). I am a middle school teacher, and taking 12 days to go to an event like this is somewhat easy to do. However, with three children under 7 years old, going away also cost quite a bit more in child care. To be specific, $800 more in childcare for the two weeks I was gone, brining my total costs of this trip to nearly $2000.
Being from suburban Detroit, there are few opportunities to be a part of these large special events. Travel is a necessity to get to where the action is. Others on this medical team lived in Oregon, California, Washington state, Arizona, Maryland, New York, and Georgia to name a few off hand. My main job is a math teacher, and therapy has become a hobby of mine, an expensive one at that. Give the amount of money I have spent on courses, licensing, insurance, and now traveling to Los Angeles in February and Eugene, there certainly is a price to pay when one wants to work with elite athletes. The athletes I prefer to see at home often have little money to afford the services I provide. Many have bartered with me for various things as well. I see these athletes when I have free time and provide multi-hour sessions as a result, giving them quality care. Given the large financial cost to be a part of events like this out of state, I will have to be very selective moving forward, and look to find opportunities to at least cover travel and small daily income. Talking to many veteran therapists, they all say I’m crazy to think this will happen, but one can only try!
I flew out of Detroit June 28 and got to Eugene midafternoon. After checking in to the dorm, I went to get my credential and work clothing. We were provided with two t-shirts, a hat, a jacket and a water bottle. I can’t even tell you how many people commented on liking the jackets. During our work time, we were required to wear this along with khaki/tan pants/shorts.
After getting my credential I walked to Hayward, which was a short 5 minute walk from the dorm. A few other people on the Medical Team were already there, but the day was not very busy at all. I wanted to get an idea of the layout and how things would work.
My first work day was June 29. From this day on, I essentially worked “double shifts” the entire time, by choice. I came out there to work, and work I did! Those who worked double shifts were able to get lunch coupons, where lunch was paid for. I did this for a few days and realized I was missing out on seeing athletes at the tent. So I decided to get a sub sandwich to bring with me and eat in between athletes, if I was busy. I barely took a break most days, eating my sandwich and throwing down some caffeine to keep me going. This hard work didn’t go unnoticed by other members of the team. The beginning of shifts was often slow, and in some cases, athletes wouldn’t arrive for a few hours. However, once they started to arrive, it got busy until we closed.
Athletes from any event (coaches, agents, and event track officials also came in at times) came in and filled out a temporary chart that served for documentation during the Trials. The intake table was run by a group of chiropractic student interns. They would get the athlete’s file and assign them to the desired medical team member. Many athletes received multiple treatments depending on their issues being treated. For example, it was common for a competitor to see a chiropractor first, then hope on a massage table, and some even topped it off with an acupuncture session as well.
Going in, I was hoping to work with a lot of distance runners in the 5000m and 10000m events, but, for whatever reason, the medical team barely saw those runners. I did get to work with a few, however. The first session of the trials included the 10,000m, 100m, 400m, 800m, long jump, high jump, men shot put, decathlon, men pole vault, men javelin and the first round of the steeplechase and mens 5000m. All other events took place in session two in the second week. Athletes from these events came in for various reasons, including general massage to take “the travel out of them” a few days prior to competing, spot work due to injury coming into the trials, or just a general light massage, often called a “flush.” Once the events started, post race treatments usually were short “flush” sessions. Some athletes came in for stretching as well, either before their event, the day before the event, or after their events. It was very common for athletes to come in on race day for a pre-competition adjustment from a chiropractor. Few people saw a massage therapist before their event, unless there was an issue that needed to be worked out.
Being new to this event, only a handful of runners knew me from previous encounters or mutual friends/coaches. Athletes often requested a specific therapist because they had worked with him/her in prior events. Other athletes didn’t mind who they saw. Coaches and agents often came with the athletes, often keeping a watchful eye on what was going on. After a few days, I started to get a few requests and return athletes. This gave me confidence that I was doing a good job. However, some athletes saw me went to see other therapists in other days. Although I would have liked everyone to come back to see me, this is why we had so many therapists, each with their unique style., in order to serve the athlete’s needs.
Is one style/person better than the other? It’s hard to say, and hard to prove since you can’t really do a scientific control. Does the therapist make a difference in the athlete’s performance? In general, likely it does not. In situations where an athlete is hurt, injured, or has an ache or pain, I do believe the therapist can become a life saver. During my stay, there were situations where I was that life saver for athletes, who often were randomly assigned to me and had complaints of nagging pains. In my time as a therapist, these special cases are something I have done very well with. Getting rid of an athlete’s pain, often a pain that has been with them for a long time, is one of the easiest ways to create trust in them and result in repeat visits down the road. There were other situations where the athlete didn’t perform well, also. Was it something the therapist did? Or was the athlete not prepared? Or maybe over prepared? It’s hard to say. In general, I would say the majority of the athletes were thankful for us being there to provide support, whether they performed well or not.
Many of us worked dozens of hours (I was around 90+ hours in my time there), and to get a hug, high five, Twitter/Instagram shout out, or a small “thank you” means so much when we are working for t-shirts, away from our families for days and weeks at a time.
Overall I had an incredible time in Eugene. I met some great people from all over who have incredible stories themselves working in high level athletics. I met some incredible athletes and created some wonderful bonds with them. Hopefully I will be able to see them again in future events.