Medical plans take first place when athletes compete on the world stage

By Colette House

Dr. Craig Young and the volunteer medical staff at 2015 Progressive Skate America competition hoped they wouldn’t have many patients  over the weekend.

Their whole goal was to stand rink side in Milwaukee, enjoy the figure skating competition unfolding before them, and not need to treat any serious injuries.

“We hope that nobody is sick enough that they need us because, obviously, if they’re sick, they can’t do their best at competition,” said Dr. Craig Young, chief medical officer at 2015 Progressive Skate America, which took place last weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther arena.

Drs. Craig Young and Emily Miller oversee a men’s practice session for 2015 Progressive Skate America in Milwaukee.

Luckily, no competitors were severely injured  while in Milwaukee. That doesn’t mean Young, a sports medicine physician in Milwaukee, and the other medical professionals on hand for the weekend didn’t have an emergency plan in place. He and other volunteer medical professionals were prepared to assist skaters in an emergency and also provide back-up support for the medical professionals that accompanied skaters who traveled internationally to compete in the competition, the first in a series leading to the ISU Grand Prix final in December in Barcelona.

Depending on a country’s size and wealth, athletic federations will typically send a physician and physical therapist to events when their athletes are competing, Young said. A large country like the United States typically sends a physical therapist and physician abroad with their athletes when they compete for Grand Prix and world titles.

“Let’s say you have a single Australian (for example) the federation is probably not going to spend the money to send a physician and physical therapist for that single athlete so the local medical staff will then take care of them,” said Young.

In Milwaukee, Young led a team from the Medical College of

Dr. Emily Porter in the medical room at 2015 Progressive Skate America.
Dr. Emily Porter in the medical room at 2015 Progressive Skate America.

Wisconsin and a few other locations. Just steps away from the ice, a medical room was set-up with ice packs, bandages, and the necessary supplies to deal with bumps and bruises, sprains, and more serious injuries, including concussions.

“I act as a liaison between the other teams and the hospital so that if they did have somebody that came down with appendicitis (for example) then I would facilitate the ability for them to go through the system and get them treated appropriately,” said Young.

Dr. Emily Porter, a sports and family medicine physician and former skater, had a treatment plan in place should any athlete get injured during practice or competition.

“First, you’re always going to start by taking a history find out what happened. Often times if the athlete can tell you kind of the mechanism of how they got hurt that can really help you determine what the injury might be,” said Porter, assistant chief medical officer at 2015 Progressive Skate America.

Porter said it’s important to know if the athlete hurt the opposite knee, leg, or arm in the past because she examines the athlete’s “good” side first. That allows her to get a baseline for what the healthy side of the athlete feels like, since it varies from athlete to athlete.

“Say somebody has torn their ACL in one knee and now we’re looking at their other knee. It’s going to be important to me because I’m always going examine their good knee first to see what that feels like,” said Porter, who practices at the Dean Clinic in Madison. “If they’ve had a surgery on there it’s going feel different than how it might feel otherwise.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States perform their gold medal winning Free Dance in Milwaukee.

U.S. Figure Skating also sends Peter Zapalo, director of sports science and medicine at US Figure Skating, to accompany skaters competing nationally and internationally. He coordinates with the athletes’ regular physician, physical therapist and the team doctor to ensure that care is continuous and injury prevention or recovery routines established at home are being done at competition. Zapalo said they aim to keep the athletes’ eating habits and physical routines as close to their normal routine as possible.

U.S. Figure Skating focuses on performance nutrition, especially when it comes to recovery after practices and events and following a solid performance nutrition plan in place for competition. They encourage athletes to pack foods that are familiar to them when traveling internationally. Favorites include chocolate milk, Greek yogurt,and fresh fruit.

Zapalo said the best action athletes can take while at competition is to try to stick with their normal routine as much as possible. Athletes wouldn’t come to competition with a new warm-up routine or psychological routine, so why change a physical therapy or nutrition routine, he said.

“We all know that schedules are not going to be normal. You’re going to have practice ice maybe late or quite early. You may be competing in the middle of a normal dinnertime and you may be dealing with a major time zone change,” said Zapalo. “So all of these things need to be thought of in advance so we can support the athletes to the best of our ability.”

Both doctors and Zapalo focus on early education and prevention as an important part of staying healthy and achieving optimal performance at competition. At U.S. Figure Skating, every Grand Prix athlete works with performance dietitians throughout the year.

“ We like to do injury prevention by helping (athletes out) with exercise physiologists, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning specialists, and sports nutritionists. Ideally we try to prevent injury and increase performance by using this team of individuals,” said Young of how he works with sports teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Ballet.

Photo at top: Pre-competition lights add to the excitement of 2015 Progressive Skate America, the first competition in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series, which took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Oct. 22-25.