Local physicians have tie to Olympic games

PLYMOUTH — Dr. George Drew, an emergency room physician at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Plymouth, might be more interested than the average American in watching the Summer Olympics this year. As a coach with USA Gymnastics, Drew has had the opportunity to train Olympic athletes. He also sat on a judge’s panel for a testing event in London for this year’s games.
“To work with athletes at the highest level, and be able to be their physician and gain their trust is very rewarding, as well as meeting people all over the world as a judge,” said Drew.
Drew said that he currently has a 16-year-old athlete who is planning to make a future Olympics team. He added that common injuries Olympians might experience during the games include problems with ankles, wrists, and the back, as well as “the aches and pains of high level training.”
Drew has been involved in training gymnasts for the Olympics since 2000.
Dr. Stephen Simons, director of Sports Medicine for SJRMC in Mishawaka, worked for the Olympic committee in 2004 in Athens, Greece. He is now on the alumni committee, and shared some “behind-the-scenes” information on what Olympic athletes might be going through medically as they compete.
“For every athlete, there is a support team that is needed,” said Simons, adding that the U.S. team requires 10 physicians and 40 athletic trainers.
“The medical job begins with evaluating the athletes once they have made the team,” said Simons. “Once on site, there are several ways that medical support is needed. Medical staff accompanies athletes to practice sessions, even when they are not competing.”
One issue that physicians face when assisting Olympic athletes, said Simons, is the heightened risk of infection that occurs when so many people from different countries of the world are in the same area.
“What could be considered trivial for most of us — like a cold — could be a big issue for these athletes,” continued Simons.
In addition to infection, physicians assist athletes with injuries. Some common ones according to Simons are: general pain, tendonitis, and stress fractures.
“There are also some unfortunate non-competition injuries, like spraining an ankle coming out of the dining hall,” said Simons. “I fortunately did not have to deal with any catastrophic injuries.”
Physicians also have the challenge of keeping athletes hydrated, helping them recover from their events, and providing sleep aids.
“Sleeping medicines are used commonly because of the high stress environment and anxiety (athletes feel) before their event,” said Simons.
As the games go on, another factor in keeping athletes going is separating those who are done with their event from those still competing, added Simons.
“In the second week, there is potential for extreme partying,” said Simons. “There are athletes from all over the world in a confined space. The Village gets noisy at night.”
Simons said that he is particularly interested in seeing Morgan Uceny’s event this year, as well as another runner from Notre Dame. He would participate as an Olympic physician again if given the chance.
“It’s very, very exciting,” said Simons.