Jan 29, 2015
Athletic Trainers in the News
Kenny Berkowitz

With the Olympics going full-tilt, winter sports are in the headlines–and so are athletic trainers. Whether they’re commenting on the potential health benefits of soft cheese, dispensing advice to television viewers at home, collaborating with sports medicine professionals on competing teams, or working for a living, athletic trainers are an essential part of the Olympic story.

While training in Austria earlier this month, USA downhill skier Lindsey Vonn bruised her right shin. The injury could have been serious enough to keep her out of the Olympics, but after a week of rest, laser treatments, and spreading cheese on her shin, she returned to the slopes and won the gold medal.

Cheese? As strange as it sounds, the cheese is called topfen, and even though there’s no scientific evidence that it helps reduce inflammation, people in Austria have been using it for years, maybe even centuries. But does it really work?

Searching for an answer, CNN spoke with athletic trainer Ralph Reiff, Director of Sports Medicine and Sports Performance at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, who emphasized the psychological benefits of feeling confident in a home remedy. “It’s not bizarre at all,” said Reiff. “If the person who is receiving the treatment believes that it’s part of the puzzle of getting better, therefore the athlete has faith. I’m a firm believer that it has value.”

*** Reiff scored a second time last week, when United Press International (UPI) needed an expert opinion on the dangers of jump-starting an exercise program. It’s great if couch potatoes are inspired to action by watching the Olympics on television–as long as they set reasonable objectives for themselves.

“Identifying a role model is always a positive way to set your sights on new goals,” said Reiff. “But it is also important to remembers the pros have trained and worked on their mental and physical abilities for years, and sometimes a lifetime.”

Reiff refered readers to the NATA guidelines, which recommend that people: • Consult a physician before beginning a new exercise regimen • Consider a gradual introduction to activity with the help of an athletic trainer • Establish both short- and long-term goals • Select a sport they’ve always wanted to try.

*** In another spin on helping television fans, U.S. News & World Report tapped Greg Schafer, former athletic trainer at Columbia University and owner of Arc Athletics in New York City. Schafer encouraged bobsled fans to mimic the sport by pushing a weight bench across the floor or by using thick exercise bands to provide resistance as they sprint forward. For snowboard aficionados, he recommended strengthening the upper body with curls and presses while improving balance with a Bosu board.

Meanwhile, the Toledo Blade reached out to Dale Arnold, athletic trainer at the Center for Health Promotion at Mercy St. Charles Hospital in Oregon, Ohio, to keep would-be Olympians from trying to accomplish too much too quickly. “If you just go out and do it, you’re going to hurt yourself,” he said. “The average person, 60 to 70 percent of their time is spent with just general living, which is why they might be more vulnerable to getting hurt.”

For the safest, smartest course, Arnold directed beginners to start on the core before moving onto hamstrings and quadriceps (for downhill skiing), quadriceps and balance (curling), leg and gluteal work (hockey), and aerobics (skating)–with plenty of time to warm up beforehand. “The stimulus of the cold is going to make you tighter and feel tighter,” he said. “But once you get the stimulation going, the muscles will respond.”

*** As part of competing in the Olympics, Team Canada’s NHL players are more than willing to set aside their professional rivalries. That same spirit extends to their athletic trainers, who have shared player information with Team Canada’s Athletic Trainer Mike Burnstein, who also works for the Vancouver Canucks.

“The information will be completely between myself and the trainer and the team Canada staff,” Burnstein, who shares duties with New York Rangers Athletic Trainer Jim Ramsay, told British Columbia’s The Province. “Really, it’s a fine line to walk. Everybody is pretty good at giving as much information as they feel comfortable with. It’s a professional courtesy. They know they’re going to be under our care.”

*** Other athletic trainers spending time in Vancouver include Justin Hunt, Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. Freestyle ski team, who was profiled in the Western News of Libby, Montana. After graduating from the University of Montana in 2000, Hunt pursued a master’s degree at Michigan State University, where he provided coverage for football and baseball. Then, after a stint working with Olympians in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and three years as an assistant athletic trainer in Missoula, he began his current position in 20006.

“Words can’t describe it at times,” he said, talking about the being part of the Olympics. “It’s that kind of experience that you see once in a lifetime. It’s especially exciting because I’m going with a group of athletes that I’ve been working with for the past four years.”

Kenny Berkowitz is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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